THE STORY OF JESSIE.
BY MABEL QUILLER-COUCH.
I A LETTER FOR SUNNYSIDE COTTAGE.
II JESSIE ARRIVES.
III SHOPPING AND TEAING.
IV A GARDEN SUNDAY-SCHOOL.
V HAPPY DAYS.
VI TAKEN BY SURPRISE.
VII THE JOURNEY AND THE ARRIVAL.
VIII THE NEW HOME.
IX MISS PATCH.
X CHARLIE REACHES HOME.
XI TOO LATE.
XII SPRINGBROOK AGAIN.
THE STORY OF JESSIE.
A LETTER FOR SUNNYSIDE COTTAGE.
Thomas Dawson was busy in the kitchen trying to make the kettle boil, and to get the fire clear that he might do a piece of toast. He had already tidied up the grate and swept the floor, and as he stood by the table with the loaf in his hand, about to cut a slice, his eye wandered down through the dewy, sunny garden, where every tree and bush was beginning to show a little film of green over its brown branches.
But before he could notice anything in the garden, his attention was attracted by the sight of Daniel Magor, the postman, standing at the gate and fumbling with the latch. Thomas dropped the loaf and the knife, and went out to meet him, leaving the house-door wide open to the beautiful morning sunshine, which poured in in a wide stream right across the kitchen, lighting up with golden radiance the flowers in the window, the old-fashioned photographs on the wall, the china on the dressers, and the cat lying asleep on the scarlet cushion in the arm-chair by the fire.
When he saw Thomas coming the postman ceased fumbling with the latch and waited, holding two letters in his hand.
"Lovely weather, Mr. Dawson. You ain't to work this morning!" he remarked in a tone of surprise.
Thomas shook his head slowly. "No, my wife is bad, she've been bad all night with a sick headache. She's better this morning, but I stayed home to get her some breakfast, and tidy up a bit. When anybody's sick they don't feel they want to do much."
"You'm right," agreed the postman feelingly. "I gets sick headaches very bad myself, and when I wakes with one it seems to me I don't care whether folk gets their letters or not. I am glad I didn't feel like that this morning, Mr. Dawson, for it's good to be alive on such a day, and I've got two letters for you."
"Both of 'em for me!" said Thomas in surprise, and holding out his hand to take them. "I don't think I've had two to once in my life before."
The postman laughed. "If folks didn't get more than you do we postmen would soon be out of a job, I reckon!" But Thomas was gazing at his letters with such a perplexed, preoccupied air, that he did not reply, and Daniel, with a long, inquiring look at him, said "Good-morning," and went on his way.
"One is the seed-list," muttered Thomas to himself, as he retraced his steps through the garden under the budding May-trees, "but it passes my understanding to know who can have sent the other. It—it can't be from—from her," he added, with sudden thought, speaking as though it pained him even to put such a thought into words.
The old cat, hearing his footsteps on the path, roused herself and went out to meet him, but for once he paid no heed to her, and passing into the house sat himself down in the chair by the window, while he still gazed with troubled eyes at the outside of the envelope, and the blurred post-mark which told him nothing. Moments passed before he could summon up courage to open it, for in his heart he felt almost certain who the writer was, and he dreaded to read what might be written; and when at last he did make up his mind, his hand trembled so as he tore open the envelope, that his misty eyes could scarcely make out what was written, or take in the meaning.
"Dear Father and Mother "—for seconds he was unable to read beyond that beginning, so strange yet familiar it seemed after all these years of silence—"I hope you will not refuse to open a letter from me, and I hope that you will try to forgive me for all that's past, and for what I am about to do. You would if you knew all. I wrote to you and told you I had married Harry Lang. I hope you had the letter and read it. I was happy enough for a time, but Harry has had no work to speak of for more than a year, and though we've sold all the little I'd got together, we have been nearly starving many a time. At last, though, Harry has got a good job offered him in a gentleman's racing stables. It is a fine berth to have got, the wages is good, and there are rooms to live in, and we can't refuse it after all we have been through, but they won't allow no children.
"If work hadn't been so hard to get, and we starving, we would have waited for something else, for it nearly kills me to part with my Jessie, but I've got to, and, dear father and mother, I hope you will forgive me, but I am sending her to you. She is all I've got, and I am nearly crazy at losing her, but I don't know what else to do. Life is very hard sometimes. I know you will be good to her, and you can't help loving her, I know. She is very good and quiet, and she will not give mother very much trouble, and I pray with all my heart she may be a better child, and more of a comfort to you than I have ever been.
"Your broken-hearted but loving,
"P.S.—She is five years old and strong and healthy. I had her christened Jessamine May to remind me of the jessamine and the May-trees at home, for I love my old home dearer than any place in the world. Forgive me, dear father and mother, and be good to my precious darling."
For minutes after he had reached the end of the letter, poor Thomas Dawson sat with tears running fast over his weather-worn cheeks. "My little maid," he kept saying to himself, with a sob in his breath, "my Lizzie starving! starving! and me with a plenty and to spare!" It was his own child he was thinking of, his own Lizzie, the little maiden who had been the apple of his eye, the joy and pride of his life—and this was what she had come to!
The kettle sang and boiled on the hob, the fire burnt clear, but the loaf lay on the table uncut, and still the old man sat staring before him at the letter spread on the table, heeding nothing until a thought came which roused him completely—though only to a deeper sense of trouble. "However am I going to break the news to mother," he groaned. "Oh, my! but it'll upset her something cruel—and that lazy, good-for-nothing fellow that she could never abide, have brought it all upon us!"
His thoughts and his wonderings, though, were brought to a sudden stop by the touch of a hand on his shoulder. "Why, Thomas, you were so quiet I thought you must be asleep, or ill, or something, and I was so worried I had to get up at last and come down and see." Then, as her husband turned to her, and she caught sight of his face, she grew really alarmed. "What is it? What has happened? There is trouble, I can see it. Tell me what it is, quick, for pity's sake. Don't 'ee keep me waiting."
He rose, and gently putting her into the chair he had been occupying, he handed her Lizzie's letter. "That's the trouble, mother," he said; "it might have been worse—that's all I can say. You must read it for yourself, it'd choke me to do so if I was to try," and he went away to the door and stood there gazing out at the sunny garden where the daffodils bowed gently before the soft breeze, and the crocuses opened their golden cups to the sun. But he saw nothing, all his mind was given to his wife, and the letter she was reading, and to wondering how she would bear it, and what he could say to comfort her.
At last a long low cry reached him, and he turned hastily back into the kitchen; but, instead of seeing her white and shaken and weeping, as he was prepared to see her, the face that looked up to him was quivering with eagerness and love and joy.
"She's sending us her little one, father!" she gasped in a voice quavering with glad excitement. "Lizzie's little girl, our own little grandchild! We shall have a child about the place again, something to love and work for. You see, Lizzie turns to us in her trouble, poor girl, and it must be a terrible trouble to her," with a momentary sadness dimming the joy in her eyes. "But, oh, I am so thankful, so happy." Then, springing to her feet, "I am well now! this is the medicine I wanted. Father, when do you think she will come? I must get the place all nice and tidy, and a room ready for her, in good time too, and it seems to me I'd best set to work at once or I shall never get a half done!"
Thomas did not say much, his heart was too full for speech, but the inexpressible relief he felt showed in his face and his blue eyes. "I'm glad you takes it like that, mother," he said simply, "I was afraid."
"Afraid! afraid of what? That I shouldn't want her!"
But at that moment the kettle boiled over with a great hiss, and brought them back to everyday affairs again.
"Well, any way," said Thomas, with a happy smile on his pleasant old face, "we can allow ourselves time for a bit of breakfast, or maybe when she does come we shall be past speaking a word to show her she's welcome," and while both of them laughed over his little joke, he made the long-delayed cup of tea, and, though both were too excited to eat, they sat down together to their breakfast.
Unwell though she had been, Mrs. Dawson would not let her husband do a single thing indoors to help her in preparation for the little newcomer.
"No. Men is only in the way," she said decidedly. "I shall get on twice as fast if you leave me the place to myself." So, knowing that she meant what she said, Thomas went out and set to work in the garden, for, of course, that must be made trim, too, for the little five-year-old grandchild. He forked over the earth in all the beds, tied up to a stick every daffodil that did not stand perfectly upright by itself, trimmed the sweetbriar hedge, and swept the paths.
"If I'd got the time," he called in to Patience, "I would give the gate a coat of paint."
"I wish you could," she called back, "and the front door, too, it'd be the better for it. To a stranger, I dare say it'll look shabby."
Evidently they expected the new-comer to be a very critical little person.
"I can whitewash the back porch," thought Thomas, "and I'll do it without saying anything to mother. It will be a bit of a surprise to her."
But while he was putting on the last brushful or two, a thought came to him which sent him hurrying into the house in quite a flurry.
"Mother!" he called up the stairs, "mother! we don't know when she's coming, Lizzie didn't say—and what's to prevent her coming to-day?"
Patience dropped her scrubbing-brush and sat down on the top stair, overcome with excitement and surprise. "To-day! this very day! Oh dear! oh dear! how careless of Lizzie not to tell us! The poor child might come at any time, and nobody be there to meet her, and we can't write and ask, for she didn't give us any address to write to. Lizzie did use to have some sense before she took up with that Harry Lang, but now—"
Patience lapsed into silence because she could not find words which would sufficiently express her feelings. She was tired and irritable too, and she never could endure uncertainty.
Thomas had been standing by all this while, thinking deeply. "Well," he said at last, "it's my belief she'd send her off as soon as she could after she'd wrote the letter, for if Lizzie had a hard thing to do, she was one as couldn't stop to think much about it, or she'd never do it at all. She's put London on the top of her letter, and the London train comes in at four-fifteen, and I'm thinking I'd better go and meet it, any way, and then, if the child don't come by it, I can tell Station-Master I'm expecting my little grandchild, but I don't know exactly when, and when she do come, will he keep her safe if I ain't there in time. I can't think of nothing better than that."
Patience rose briskly, with a look of relief on her face. There was something very wonderful in the thought that before another night she might be holding her own little grandchild in her arms. "What a head-piece you have got, father!" she cried admiringly. "Well, I mustn't stay here talking, or I shan't be ready. If I'd got the time I'd have whitened the ceiling and put a clean pretty paper on the walls of the little room."
"Little room!—are—are you giving her—Lizzie's room?" There was a note of shock or dismay in Thomas's voice.
"Yes," said Patience shortly. "The child must have a room, of course, and there isn't any other!" she answered shortly, because it hurt her to say what she had to, and she knew it would hurt Thomas even more to hear it. Lizzie's little bedroom had never been looked into by him since Lizzie had run away and left them, and Patience herself had only gone in now and then, when, for the sake of her own pride in her cottage, and to prevent her neighbour's comments, the window had to be cleaned and a fresh muslin blind put up.
She returned to the room now, and with a few deft touches, a turn and a twist or two, she moved the little bed and the bits of furniture out of their usual positions, and into some they had never occupied before. "Now it won't remind him so much," she said softly to herself, "it looks quite different," and she went out leaving door and window wide, for the sun and the soft breeze to play through.
With this new joy and the music she carried in her heart, her hands and feet flew through their work, so that by three o'clock the spotless stairs were scrubbed, and the neat kitchen made even neater, and Patience herself was ready to change her gown and put herself tidy.
Thomas was still busy in the garden. She did not know what about, but soon after she had gone up to her room she heard him calling her.
"What is it, father?" she called back. "I am up-stairs."
"I—I've got a little rose-bush that I've been bringing on in a pot, I—I thought," he concluded shyly, "I—thought the little maid would fancy it, perhaps, in her room."
A mist of tears dimmed Patience's eyes for a moment. "Bless his dear old heart," she said to herself softly, "how he thinks of everything." Aloud, she said heartily, "Why, of course she would, father. She'd be sure to love it, a real plant of her own! Will you put it up there, on the window-ledge? I've got my dress off, and I can't come for a minute," she added casually, in a tone very different from the eagerness with which she listened to hear if he did so.
"It would be a good time for him to break through, and go into the room again," she thought to herself. But Thomas did not fall in with her little scheme.
"I'll put it on the top stair, where you can see it," he called up, "and I'll go and tidy myself now, and make a start for the station. I shan't be so very much too soon."
"Only half-an-hour or so," said Patience to herself with a smile. Aloud she said, "I think you're wise, father, then you'll be able to take it easy on the way, and to explain to Station-Master all about it, in case she don't come, and I expect you'll find she won't be here for a day or two."
They kept on telling each other that, to try and prevent themselves from counting on it too much.
"No, I don't see how she can come to-day, but I'll step along to see the train come in; it'll satisfy our minds. We shouldn't feel happy to shut up the house and go to bed if we didn't know for certain."
So Thomas started off with a calm, businesslike air, outwardly, but inside him his heart was beating fast with expectation, and his step grew quicker and quicker as soon as he was out of sight of his own cottage windows.
He slackened his pace a little when he came within sight of the station, for it looked as quiet and sleepy as though no train was expected for ages yet; and the eager, shy old man felt that the men at the station would laugh at him for arriving more than half-an-hour before any train was due. For a moment he decided to turn away and walk in some other direction until some of the time had passed, but the seats on the platform looked very restful, and the platform, bathed in the soft afternoon sunshine, looked wonderfully peaceful and inviting. There was not a sign of life, or a sound or a movement, except that of the little breeze ruffling the young leaves on the chestnuts in the road outside.
"I'll explain to Mr. Simmons that I come early so as to be able to tell him about the little maid, while he'd got a few spare minutes before the train came in," he decided, and, with a sigh of relief, made his way into the station. He was tired after his exciting, busy day, and glad to sit down alone, to think over all that the day had brought them, and was likely to bring them.
Mr. Simmons, the station-master, must have been tired too, though his day had been neither busy nor exciting, for when at last he did appear, he was stretching and yawning as though the nap he had been having in his office had not been quite long enough for him.
When he saw Thomas his eye brightened, and he joined him at once, for he dearly loved a gossip, and he had in his mind a long story that he was impatient to pour out to somebody. The story was so long and so interesting that the whistle of the fast-approaching train was heard long before it was ended, and of his own story Thomas had not been able to tell a word.
"Is that the London train?" he asked eagerly, starting to his feet.
"It is, sir. Are you going by it?"
"No—o, oh no," said Thomas. His face flushed and his hands shook as a carriage door opened here and there and a passenger got out.
"Are 'ee expecting somebody?" asked the station-master, with just a touch of impatience in his voice. He did not approve of this reserve in Thomas, just after he had confided all that story to him too.
"Well, I hardly know," said Thomas slowly. "I am, and I ain't." A dull sick feeling of bitter disappointment filling his heart as he saw that beyond the two men who had sprung out at once, no one else was appearing. "I was going to tell 'ee about it, only the train corned in. I'm—I'm expecting my little granddaughter. She may come any day, by any train, so far as we know, for they—her mother, at least, forgot to say which."
The station-master, seeing that his presence was not required by the new arrivals, stood ready to listen to Thomas's story. "Didn't tell you when to expect her!" he exclaimed in surprise.
"No—o," said Thomas reluctantly. He shrank from talking about it, for fear Mr. Simmons would ask questions he did not want, or was unable, to answer. "She overlooked it, I reckon; and there hasn't been time to write and get an answer, so I thought I'd just step up and see this train in."
"Well, we may as well go the length of her and make sure," said Mr. Simmons, "if the child is very young, she may be afraid to move, or p'raps she doesn't know that this is where she ought to get out."
Fresh hope rose in Thomas's heart as they made their way along the whole length of the train. The guard and the porter paused in their gossip to turn and look at them, the engine-driver hanging lazily over the side of his box watched them idly. Thomas, who was filled now with fear that the engine would start off at a wild pace before they had time to search the carriages, was somewhat relieved by the lazy look of them all.
"Do you know if there was any little girl on board booked to Springbrook?" Mr. Simmons asked the guard as they drew near him.
"Why, yes, I b'lieve there was," answered the man casually. "Got in at St. Pancras. Hasn't she got out?"
Thomas hurried on more quickly. If she was booked for Springbrook, and wasn't in the train, no one knew what might have happened to her. She might have fallen out, or been stolen, or she might have got out at the wrong station, and a terrible fear weighed on him as he hurried on.
"Hi! Mr. Dawson, come here! Is this of her, do you think?"
Thomas ran along the platform to the carriage where the station-master stood, and both looked in. The compartment was empty, save for a little figure, huddled up fast asleep in one corner. Thomas looked at her, and his eyes grew misty. "Ye—es, that's of her," he answered. He hesitated, not because he doubted, for, though the little face was flushed and tear-stained, and the dark hair all rumpled about it, it might have been his own little Lizzie again.
The men looked from the child to each other helplessly. "What had we best do?" said the station-master, in a tone lowered so that it might not waken the little sleeper. "If she opens her eyes and sees us all here she'll be frightened."
"And if I touch her it'll wake her up with a start," said her grandfather anxiously. But before they had settled the knotty point, the engine-driver, growing tired of waiting, let off a shrill whistle from his engine and with the sound the little sleeper stirred, opened her eyes, and sat up suddenly. The porter hastily disappeared from the doorway, the station-master left the carriage too, but the guard remained, and nodded and smiled at her reassuringly.
"You remember me, don't you, little one! I've brought you all the way home, and here we are, and here is grandfather come to see you."
Jessie sat up and looked from one to the other with troubled eyes. "I want mother," she said at last, with piteously trembling lips.
"Oh, now, you ain't going to cry again, are you?" cried the guard, pretending to be shocked. "Good little girls don't cry. 'Tis time to get out, too, the train is going on, and you'll be carried away, if you don't mind what you're about, and then how will mother ever be able to find you? Come along, get up like a good little maid."
Poor Jessie, really frightened at the thought of such a fearful possibility, turned piteously to her grandfather, who had been all this time standing by awkwardly, wondering what he could do or say. But at that look he forgot himself and his doubts, and the guard and everything but the pitiful frightened look on the little face.
"Come along with grandfather," he said coaxingly, dropping on his knee beside her. "Come along with me, dear, and I'll take care of you till mother comes. Granny is home waiting for 'ee with a bootiful tea, and there's flowers, and a kitten, and a fine little rose-bush in a pot that grandfather picked out on purpose for 'ee. Wouldn't you like to come and see it all?"
"Will Jessie have roses?" she asked eagerly, her eyes growing bright and expectant.
"Yes, I shouldn't be surprised if there's one nearly out already. Let's go home quick, and see, shall we? It had got a bud on it when I left, maybe it'll be out by this time, if not you can be sure it will be to-morrow."
The engine gave another shrill whistle, the train jerked and quivered. Thomas hastily gathered up Jessie in his arms, shawl and all. "Where's your box, and all the rest of it?"
"Haven't got any."
"Haven't got any! Your clothes, I mean, frocks and hats and boots and suchlike."
"I've got on my boots," putting out her feet, and showing a very shabby broken pair, "and there's a parcel there, my old frock is in it, and my pinny, that's all."
Thomas picked up the parcel, and hurried out of the already slowly-moving train.
"Tickets, please," said the man at the gate.
"Have 'ee got your ticket?" Thomas inquired anxiously.
"Yes," she nodded; "but you must put me down, please; it is in my purse, and my purse is in my pocket, and I can't get at it while you are holding me."
Her grandfather did as he was told, and Jessie, freeing herself from the great shawl which enveloped her, shook out her frock, and diving her hand into her pocket, drew out an old shabby purse. The clasp was broken, and it was tied round with a piece of string, but her little fingers quickly undid this, and from the inside pocket drew out her railway ticket and a ha'penny. In giving the porter the ticket she had some trouble not to give him the ha'penny too.
"I can't give you my money," she explained gravely, "for it is all I've got, but I had to put it in there with the ticket, because there's a hole in my purse that side, do you see?" and she showed it to the man, pushing her finger through the hole that he might see it better. "It was mother's purse, but she lost a sixpence one day, and then she gave it to me. It does all right for me, 'cause I only have pennies," she explained gravely as she put her purse back into her pocket again.
The porter agreed. "'Tis a nice purse for a little girl," he said quite seriously; "there's heaps of wear in it yet, by the look of it."
Thomas Dawson stood by, his face all alight with smiles and interest. "What a clever little maid 'tis," he thought, "and what a happy little soul to be so ready to talk like that right away."
"Now, my dear, are 'ee ready? We must hurry on, or granny'll think you ain't come, and she will be wondering what's become of me. Shall I carry you again?"
"No, thank you, I'd like to walk, but I'd like you to hold my hand. Mother always does; she's afraid I'll get lost with so many people about."
"Well, you won't be troubled with too many people hereabouts," said her grandfather, laughing, but he was only too glad to clasp the little hand thrust into his, and they walked on very happily together talking quite as though they were old friends.
"We are nearly home now, 'tisn't so very much further. Are 'ee tired, dear?"
"No—o, not so very," she answered, but in rather a weary voice. "Are you too tired to carry me?"
Her grandfather laughed, but before he could reply, or pick her up, she drew back a little. "Is my face clean?" she asked anxiously. "I must have a clean face when I see granny. Mother told me granny doesn't like little girls with dirty faces. Do you, granp?"
"I like some little girls, no matter what their faces is like," he said warmly, but recollecting himself, he added quickly, "Of course I like 'em best with nice clean faces and hands and tidy hair. Every one does."
"Mother said you didn't mind so much," she added brightly.
"Did she! did she now! Just fancy her thinking that!" The old man's face quite lighted up at the thought of Lizzie's remembering. "Yes, I used to dip the corner of my handkerchief in the brook sometimes and wash her little face for her, so as she might go home to her mother looking clean. Look, here is a little brook, shall I wash yours over a bit, like I used to mother's?"
"Oh, please, please," cried Jessie delightedly.
So by the wayside they stopped and made quite a little toilette, her face and hands were washed, and her hair put back neatly under her shabby hat, and then they went on again.
Patience Dawson, looking anxiously out of the window, saw them at last arrive at the gate, and her heart almost stood still with excitement and nervousness. "Why, it might be five and twenty years ago, and Thomas be bringing in Lizzie herself!" she gasped. Her face flushed, tears suddenly brimmed over and down her cheeks. She longed to run down the garden and take the little child in her arms and hold her to her heart, but a sudden shyness came over her and held her fast. She could only stand there and watch them and wait.
She saw her husband looking eagerly from window to door, expecting to see her; she saw the little child face turned excitedly from side to side, exclaiming at the sight of the flowers, and sniffing in the scent.
"Oh, granp, smell the 'warriors'!" she heard her cry in a perfectly friendly voice. "You sniff hard and you'll smell them. Oh, my!"
"She's friends with him already, same as Lizzie was. I wish I knew how to—" But her wish she only sighed, she did not put it into words.
"Never mind the flowers now, little maid; here's granny inside waiting for us." Then he put her down on her feet, and led her over the threshold.
Patience, dabbing the tears from her eyes with her handkerchief, stepped forward to meet them. "I'd begun to wonder what had become of 'ee, father," she said. "I s'pose the train was late. Well, dear," stooping to kiss her little grandchild, "how are you? Have you got a kiss for granny?"
"Yes," Jessie nodded gravely, "and my face is very clean," she added, as she put it up to be kissed. But she turned and slipped her hand into her grandfather's again as soon as the kiss was given, for she felt a little awed and shy with this granny, who seemed so much more grown-up and stern than did the grandfather.
Her shyness did not last very long, though; by the time granny had taken her up to her room and shown her the rose-bush, and taken off her hat and brushed out her hair, and brought her down to tea and lifted her into her seat at the table, much of her shyness had worn off, and the sight of the mug with pictures on it, and the little plate "with words on it," loosened her tongue again, and set it chattering quite freely.
The meal lasted a long time that night, for Jessie was full of talk, and neither her "granp," as she already familiarly called him, nor her granny could bear to interrupt her, especially after she had slidden down from her high seat at the table, and clambered on to her grandfather's knee; for to them her presence seemed like some wonderful dream, from which they were afraid of waking.
At last, though, the little tongue grew quiet, the dark curly head fell back on granp's shoulder, and then the bright eyes closed.
"I reckon I'd best carry her right up to bed," said Thomas softly. "If I hand her over to you she'll waken, as sure as anything."
Patience only nodded, she could not speak, her heart was so full, and rising she followed him up the stairs, carrying the lamp. At the door of Lizzie's old room she expected him to stop and hand the sleeping child over to her, but, apparently without remembering what room it was, he walked straight in, and very tenderly laid his burthen on the bed. Then, with a glance at the rose-bush on the sill, he crept softly out and down the stairs again.
Patience stood by her little sleeping grandchild with tears of joy in her eyes. "She's broke his will," she said gladly, "for her sake he's forgotten. P'raps now he'll get over the trouble, and forget, and be happier again."
SHOPPING AND TEAING.
The next morning some of Jessie's shyness had returned, but it vanished again at the sight of the mug with the pictures and the plate with the "words" on it. At the liberal dishful of bacon and eggs she stared wide-eyed.
"You can eat a slice of bacon and an egg, can't you, dearie?" asked her granny.
"Yes, please!" with a sigh of pleasure. "May I?"
"Why, of course," said granny heartily. "Why not? Do you like eggs?"
Jessie nodded. "I had one once, a whole one, but that was for my dinner. We don't ever have eggs for breakfast at home," she added impressively.
"Don't you?" answered her grandfather gravely, "then what do you have? Something you like better, I s'pose?"
He did not ask from curiosity, that was the last thing he would have been guilty of; he only wanted to show an interest and to hear her talk.
"We don't have nuffin', 'cepts when father has got work, then father has a bloater. Me and mother have one too, sometimes, then. But when father is out of work we only has bread."
Patience turned pale, and Thomas groaned. Jessie looked up with quick sympathy. "Have you hurted your toof, granp?" she asked gravely, little dreaming that it was she herself who had given him pain.
"No, my dear, granp's all right. Try and make a good breakfast now. You've got to get as plump and round as the kitten over there."
Patience had laid down her knife and fork, and sat staring before her with miserably troubled eyes. "It seems wrong to be eating, when— when there's others—one's own, too—going hungry!"
"Nonsense now," said Thomas gruffly; "don't 'ee talk like that, mother, it's foolish. We've got to think of ourselves and those about us, and it's our duty to eat and drink and be sensible, whether we likes it or not." He spoke gruffly, because he felt that if he spoke in any other way, he or Patience would break down.
Jessie came to their help, though. "My rose is nearly out, granp," she announced proudly, as soon as she was able to lift her thoughts from the wonderful experience of having an egg and bacon for breakfast. "I saw it all showing pink. I expect by the time we've finished our breakfases it will be right wide out. You come up and see too, will you?"
And sure enough when breakfast was really done, she took his hand in hers and led him up and into the room he had shunned so long.
"I don't think it will be full out until to-morrow," he decided; but Jessie couldn't help thinking he had made a mistake, and many times that day she climbed the stairs to see, and was quite troubled when at last she had to go to bed, for fear the bud would open while her eyes were shut.
"I think it is a very slow rose," she said, shaking her head sagely as her granny was undressing her. "I am sure it ought to have been out by this time."
And then, after all her watching, the bud burst into full bloom before Jessie was awake the next morning. When she opened her eyes and saw it she felt quite vexed. "I wish I had put you back in a dark corner," she said to it, "then you wouldn't have opened till I was awake."
"The little maid is a born gardener," chuckled her grandfather, when he was told of it; "'tis the folk that talks to their flowers that gets the best out of them."
"If talking'll do it, her rose-bush will be covered thick, then," laughed her grandmother.
"I wish I could send some of my roses to mother," sighed Jessie; "mother loves roses," and the tears came into her eyes. "Granny, do you think my roses will all be gone before mother comes for me?"
"Your—mother! Is she coming?" Patience was so taken aback that she spoke in almost a dismayed tone, and Jessie, with her loving little heart and quick ears, noticed it and was hurt. It sounded to her as though her granny did not want her mother; and her chin quivered and her eyes filled, for she wanted her mother very much, and every one else should want her too, she thought.
Her grandfather saw the poor little quivering lips and tear-filled eyes, and understood. "The rose may be past," he said cheerfully, "for the time, any way, but we'll have flowers of some kind ready for mother whenever she comes. 'Tis you and I, little maid, will see to that, won't we? We must make it our business to have something blooming all the year round, then we'll be sure to be right."
Jessie looked up at him gratefully, and the tears changed to smiles. Something told her that granp would be glad to see mother whenever she came. The thought of growing flowers for her was a lovely one, too; it seemed to bring her mother nearer; and, though granny and granp were so kind, oh, she did want her so very, very much. She wanted her to see the garden and the house, and the kitten, and to have bacon and eggs for breakfast, and milk in her tea, and nice butter on her bread.
Then, in the midst of these thoughts, something that granny was saying caught her attention, and, for the moment, drove all other thoughts out of her head.
"I've been thinking I'd better go into Norton this afternoon, and do some shopping," she remarked to granp, "for the child must have some clothes, and as soon as possible, too; and I reckon I'd better take her with me, though she really isn't fit, her boots and her hat are so shabby; but it'll be better to have her there to be fitted, especially the first time."
"Oh, she doesn't look so bad," answered granp cheerfully. "If she keeps smiling at folks they won't notice her hat nor her boots neither."
Granny was not so sure of that. Her pride was a little hurt at the thought of taking such a shabbily-clad little granddaughter into the shops where she was well known. However, hats and boots required to be tried on, so there was nothing for it but to make the best of things, and Jessie was to be taken to Norton.
What a day of wonders that was to Jessie! It seemed almost as though there were too many good things crowded into one twenty-four hours.
As soon as it was decided that they were to go, her grandfather went off and borrowed Mrs. Maddock's donkey and the little cart, to drive them in, for Norton was more than a mile and a half away, and that was too far, they thought, for Jessie's little feet to walk. So the cart was brought, and granny and grandfather sat on the little wooden seat, while Jessie sat on a rug in the bottom of the cart, at their feet. She liked it better there, she thought, for there was no fear of her falling out, and she could look all about her and feel quite safe and comfortable all the time. Granp gave her the whip to hold, but she had no work to do, for Moses, the donkey, behaved so well, he never once needed it all the way to Norton.
Jessie was very glad, for she could not bear to think of anything being punished on such a lovely afternoon. The birds were singing, the hedges were covered with little green leaves, just bursting forth. Here and there a blackthorn bush was in full flower, and filled Jessie with delight. She sat very quiet, looking about her with a serious happy face, drinking it all in, and evidently thinking deeply. Her grandfather watched her with the keenest interest.
"I reckon it looks funny to you, don't it, little maid, after all the streets and houses and bustle you've been accustomed to?" he asked at last.
Jessie nodded. "There's such lots of room, and no peoples," she said soberly, "and at home there was such lots of peoples and no room. Where are they all gone, granp?"
"Gone to London, I reckon," answered granp, with a laugh. "You'll find it quiet, and you'll miss the shops, little maid."
"Shops!" said granny indignantly; "we shall be in Norton in a little while now, and there's shops enough there to satisfy any one, I should hope."
But when they reached the little town, and Jessie was lifted down from the cart, and put to stand in the street while granny dismounted, she looked about her, wondering greatly where the shops could be. There did not seem to be many people here either. Two sauntered up to look at the donkey-cart, and to pass the time of day with Mr. Dawson, but that was all. There were no omnibuses, no motors, no incessant tramp, tramp, tramp, of horses' hoofs, making the never-ceasing dull roar to which she had been accustomed all her life, and Jessie missed it. Suddenly she felt very lonely and forlorn. The world was so big and empty and silent, and her mother so very, very far away. There seemed to be nobody left to see, or care, or hear, no matter what happened.
But just at the moment when her tears were nearly brimming over, she heard her grandfather say proudly, "Yes, this is Jessie, my little grandchild, Lizzie's little girl," and turning her head she saw him holding out his hand to her, and all was well once more. With granp's big hand holding hers so closely she could not feel that no one heard or cared, and the day looked all bright and sunny again.
She felt sorry when her grandfather mounted into the little cart to drive home, and she almost wished she was going with him; but granny, taking her by the hand, led her quickly down the street and into a draper's shop.
Jessie felt rather shy when her grandmother led her in, for though she had spent a lot of time looking at shop windows with her mother, she had very seldom been inside one, and when she had gone in the places had been so full of people always that no one had paid any heed to her, which was what she liked. But here she and her grandmother seemed to be almost the only customers that afternoon, and all the assistants looked at them as they entered. They all smiled, too, and most of them said, "Good-afternoon, Mrs. Dawson," in a very friendly way, which only made Jessie feel even more uncomfortable, for she realized suddenly that her boots were cracked, and her hat very shabby, and that she had no gloves at all; and she wished very much that they could get right away up to the far end of the shop, where it seemed quite empty and quiet.
Mrs. Dawson apparently wished the same, for though she gave a smile and a greeting to all, she walked sturdily through the shop, ignoring the chairs pulled out for her by the polite shop-walker, and made her way to the very end, where a pleasant-faced attendant stood alone, rolling up ribbons in a leisurely way.
"Well, Mrs. Dawson," she said brightly, "you are a stranger. I hope you are well? And who is this little person? Not your granddaughter, surely?"
"Yes, it is. This is Lizzie's little girl," said Mrs. Dawson, a faint flush rising to her cheeks. "She is come to stay with us for a good long spell."
"Well, the country air will do her good. She looks rather thin."
"She does," agreed Mrs. Dawson, looking at Jessie with kindly anxious eyes, "but she looks healthy, I think, don't you?" Already it gave her a pang to hear any one say that her Jessie did not look well.
"Oh yes!" agreed the girl reassuringly. "What can I get for you to-day, Mrs. Dawson?"
"Well," said Mrs. Dawson thoughtfully, "it seems to me I want a good many things. What I want mostly is some clothes for Jessie. Living in the country, she ought to have something that'll wear well, strong boots, and a plain sun-hat, and some print for washing-frocks."
Jessie's eyes opened wider and wider. Were all those things really to be bought for her? It seemed impossible; but the girl, who did not seem at all overcome, went off as though it were quite an ordinary matter, and presently she returned with an armful of pretty soft straw hats with wide drooping brims, and tried them one by one over Jessie's curls.
"I declare, any of them would suit her; but I think she'd look sweet in that one," she said at last, and granny agreed.
"What would you trim it with?" she asked; "a bit of plain ribbon, I should think." But the girl shook her head.
"Oh no, if I was you I'd have a little wreath of flowers round it; it would make ever so pretty a hat, and would last her for Sundays right on till the late autumn. I'll show you some;" and dragging out a big drawer, she displayed a perfect garden of dainty blossoms, daisies, roses, forget-me-nots, moss, ferns, and flowers of every kind that ever grew, and many kinds that never did or could grow.
Jessie's eyes, though, were caught by a wreath of feathery moss with little blue forget-me-nots peeping out of it here and there, and when she was asked which she liked best, she decidedly picked out that one. To her great delight her granny's taste agreed with her, and the wreath and the hat and a piece of white ribbon were put aside together.
"Now," laughed Mrs. Dawson, "I've got to get her another for every day. That's a pretty fine thing! I reckon you think there's no bottom to my purse!"
"Now, Mrs. Dawson, you won't regret spending that money, I am sure," said the attendant coaxingly; "and this one shan't cost more than eighteenpence, trimming and all," and she produced a big shady-brimmed, flexible straw, for which was shown as trimming a pretty soft flowered ribbon, to be loosely twisted around the crown. Then came a length of blue serge for a warm dress, and two pieces of print, one with blue flowers all over it, and the other with pink ones. Jessie thought them both perfectly lovely, and while they were being chosen she slid off her chair and went and leaned against her grandmother. She did not feel at all afraid of her now; she felt that she wanted to kiss her for all her kindness, and to tell her how grateful she was. She did not do that, she was still too shy, but Mrs. Dawson seemed to understand, for she put her arm very fondly about her, and drew her very close.
"Now, if only you could sew," she said, "you'd be able to help me finely with all this, but I s'pose I shall get it done somehow. I must let other things go for the time."
Jessie longed eagerly to be able to help, but she couldn't sew at all, she had never even tried. She thought, though, that she might be able to do some of the other things granny mentioned, and she made up her mind to do her best. She wouldn't say anything to any one, but she would try, and she grew quite excited at the thought.
"I wish mother knew," she sighed presently, when the assistant had gone off to get the boots for her to try on. "Mother tried to get me a new hat, but she hadn't got any money. She would be so glad to know what lots of nice new things I am having." Then, as she saw the girl approaching from a distant part of the shop, she put up her arm to draw her grandmother's head down to her own level. "Mother cried when she sent me away," she whispered solemnly, "because she couldn't get me any new clothes."
When the assistant reached them again, with her arms full of boots, she found Mrs. Dawson rubbing her eyes and nose violently with her large white cotton handkerchief.
"You haven't got a cold, I hope," the girl asked sympathetically, but Mrs. Dawson reassured her.
After the boots had been fitted, a pair of felt slippers was brought and added to the collection; then sundry yards of calico and flannel, and brown holland, some stockings, and what Jessie thought the most wonderful of all, a pair of cotton gloves and some little handkerchiefs with coloured borders.
By the time all this was done both Mrs. Dawson and Jessie felt that they had had enough shopping for one day. "And if I have forgotten anything, well, Norton isn't so far off but what we can come again," laughed Mrs. Dawson, refusing to listen to anything the pleasant-faced girl tried to tempt her with.
"Shawls, umbrellas, caps, sheets—"
"No, none of them, thank you," said granny decidedly.
The proprietor of the shop came up. "Now, I am sure, Mrs. Dawson, you must want something for the master?" he urged smilingly.
"No, I don't," said granny. "Thomas has got to make the best of what he has got. All I want now is a cup of tea, and I must go and get it, and see about making our way home."
"Well," said Mr. Binns, "I am sure this little person can find a use for one of these," and he picked up a little silk scarf with a flower worked in each corner, and laid it across Jessie's shoulders.
Jessie looked up, speechless with delight. "Well, I never!" Mrs. Dawson exclaimed; "now, that is kind of you, Mr. Binns. I'm sure Jessie'll be proud enough of that, won't you, Jessie?"
"Oh yes, thank you," said Jessie earnestly. "I'll—I'll only wear it for best."
At which Mr. Binns and Mrs. Dawson and the pleasant-faced girl all laughed, Jessie didn't know why, and then granny said "good-bye," and she and Jessie made their way out into the street. The afternoon sun was fading by this time, and the shadows had grown long.
"I do want my tea badly, don't you?" said granny again.
"Yes," sighed Jessie, for she was really very tired, "but it doesn't matter," she hastened to add. It was what she used to say to her mother to comfort her when there was little or no food in the house.
"But it does matter," said granny decidedly; "we have a longish walk before us, and we shan't get anything for another couple of hours or so, if we don't have it now. So we'll go and have a nice tea at once. Come along," and she led the way further down the street until they came to a baker's shop, from which there floated out a delicious smell of hot cakes and pastry.
Behind the shop there was an old-fashioned, low-ceilinged room with small tables and chairs dotted about it. At one of these Mrs. Dawson and Jessie seated themselves, and soon a kindly-faced woman brought in a tray with a brown teapot of tea, a jug of milk, and a goodly supply of cakes and bread and butter.
Jessie had never been in such a place before, and she felt there could be nothing grander or more interesting in the whole world. In the shop outside people were coming and going, and one or two came in and seated themselves at other little tables, and Jessie sat and watched it all with the greatest interest, while she ate and drank as much as ever she wanted of the nice bread and butter and fascinating cakes.
"I wish mother could see me now," she sighed at last. "And oh, wouldn't it be nice if she was here, too. She'd love a beautiful tea like this."
Patience Dawson did not know what reply to make, her feelings brought a sob to her throat, and the old ache back to her heart.
"Oh, I expect she is having quite as good a tea as we are," she said at last, for want of something else to say. But Jessie shook her head sagely.
"I don't 'spect she is; we didn't have tea—only sometimes, and we never had cake, never!"
"Well, p'raps mother and you and me will all come here together one day," she said, trying to speak cheerfully, though she little expected such a thing to happen.
"And granp too?" said Jessie eagerly.
"Oh yes, granp too, of course." But her grandmother noticed that she never once expressed a wish that her father should join them.
When at last the meal was over, and Mrs. Dawson had paid the bill and talked a little with the woman who had served them, they made their way slowly into the street.
"I think," said Mrs. Dawson musingly, standing still and turning things over in her mind, "I think we had better go home by train; 'tis a good step, a mile and a half, for you to walk, and for me, too, with all these parcels; it isn't nearly so far to walk home from the station." So two days following Jessie arrived at Springbrook station, and when she got out of the train the station-master and the porter both recognized her and smiled at her.
"Why, you've become quite a traveller, missie," said Mr. Simmons jokingly; "supposing we had let you sleep on! where would you have been by this time, I wonder?"
"I don't know," answered Jessie, looking quite alarmed.
"I hope you've got your purse safe, missie," said the porter, as he passed her.
"Yes, thank you," answered Jessie gravely, putting her hand down and feeling it in her pocket.
"Good-night!" they all said to each other as they parted, which Jessie thought was very polite and friendly of them. Then she and her granny stepped out into the road, and walked quickly through the fast-deepening twilight to the little cottage where the light was already glowing a welcome to them from the kitchen window, and grandfather was waiting supper for them.
A GARDEN SUNDAY-SCHOOL.
Springbrook village lay near Springbrook station. It was a very small village, but those who lived in it thought it a very pretty one. It consisted of the church, the vicarage, the doctor's house, three or four small private houses and a number of picturesque cottages.
The church stood at one end of the village in the middle of a beautiful churchyard and burying-ground, surrounded by fine trees— flowering chestnuts and sweet-scented limes, while every here and there blossomed beautiful red May-trees, lilacs, laburnums, syringas and roses. From this, the one street—lined on either side by little cottages, with here and there a small shop—led to the green, around which stood in irregular fashion pretty houses and large cottages with gardens before their doors. The doctor lived in one of these houses, and the curate, Mr. Harburton, in another, and Miss Barley and Miss Grace Barley in a third, and all the houses looked out on the green and the road and across at each other, but all those who dwelt in them were so neighbourly and friendly, this did not matter at all.
Jessie thought the houses by the green were perfectly lovely, they had creepers and roses growing over them, and window-boxes full of flowers. She thought the green was lovely too, and almost wished that she lived by it that she might be able to see the donkeys and the ducks which were usually standing about cropping the grass, or poking about in the little stream which ran along one side of the green. She thought the ivy-covered church, with the trees and the hawthorns all about it, one of the most beautiful sights in the world, and nothing she loved better than to walk with granp along the sweet-scented roads along by the green and through the village street to church.
Mrs. Dawson did not go in the morning, as a rule. "Grandfather must have a nice hot dinner once a week," she declared, so she stayed at home to cook it; but they all went together to the evening service, and Jessie dearly loved the walk to church in the quiet summer's evening, with granp and granny on either side of her, and home again through the gathering twilight, sweet with the scent from the gardens and hedges.
Sometimes, when they got home, granny would give them their supper in the garden, if the weather was very warm, and Jessie loved this. While granny was helping her on with her big print overall, grandfather would carry out two big arm-chairs, and a little one for Jessie, and there they would sit, with their plates on their laps and their mugs beside them, and eat and talk until darkness or the falling dew drove them in.
Sometimes they repeated hymns, verse and verse, first grandfather, then granny, and by and by, as she came to know them, Jessie herself would take her turn too. Sometimes they would repeat a psalm or two in the same way, or a chapter, and before very long they had taught Jessie some of these also, so that, to her great delight, she could join in with them.
Then came bedtime, when she knelt in her little white nightgown beside her bed and repeated—
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon a little child, Pity my simplicity, Suffer me to come to Thee Fain I would to Thee be brought; Dearest God, forbid it not; But in the kingdom of Thy grace Grant a little child her place.
"Pray God bless dear father and mother, grandfather and grandmother, and all kind friends and relations, and help me to be a good girl, for Christ's sake. Amen."
Then, with one look at her rose to see if there were any more buds on it, and a glance into the garden to see if grandfather was still there, she lay down in her little white bed, and with a kiss from granny and a last good-night she would be asleep almost before granny had reached the foot of the stairs.
Then when morning came Jessie was just as glad to open her eyes and spring out of bed as she had been to spring into it, for life was full of all sorts of delights, indeed she would have liked nothing better than for it to go on and on always in the same happy way. With Mrs. Dawson, though, things were different. Granny began to grow very troubled about Jessie's education.
"It is time she was learning," she said anxiously, many a time. "I know she ought to go to Sunday-school regularly, but I don't know how it is to be managed. She can't walk there and back three times a day, I am sure. If she walked there and back in the morning, and there and back in the afternoon, she wouldn't be fit to go with us in the evening too. She would be tired out. We couldn't go to church in the evening either, for one of us would have to stay with her."
Grandfather sat for a few moments meditating deeply over this problem, then, "I can teach her myself for a bit on Sundays," he exclaimed triumphantly, his dear old face lighting up at the thought of it. "I know enough about the Bible and Prayer-book for that. It would do me good too."
"But there's her other schooling. What can we do about that?"
"I s'pose she'll have to do as the other children do," said grandfather gravely, "and walk there and back twice every day. Some of the bigger ones would let her walk with them, then she would be safe enough. We will begin our Sunday-school next Sunday"—his blue eyes lighting up with pleasure at the thought of it. The day-school was quite a secondary matter to him, with the idea of that other filling his mind. "We can sit in the garden while the fine weather lasts. It would be lovely there, and good for the little maid too."
So, when Sunday came, grandfather's big chair and Jessie's little one were carried out into the garden, and placed side by side, near the porch, and a little table was carried out, too, for grandfather's Bible and Prayer and hymn-books, and then, looking very pleased but serious, the pair seated themselves. The dear old man was a little bit shy and embarrassed, and very nervous when it actually came to the point, and for a moment he looked more like a new shy pupil than the teacher. Jessie was much the more composed of the two.
"When are you going to begin, granp?" she demanded anxiously.
"Now. I think we will begin with learning you the Lord's prayer," he said huskily, feeling that something was expected of him, and he must not fail. "Now, 'Our Father—'"
"I know that already," said Jessie reproachfully; "but why is it called the 'Lord's Prayer,' granp? Did the Lord have to say it when He was little?"
"No. He told it for all little children to say, all the world over, and big children too, and men and women."
Jessie looked awed and puzzled. "How did everybody all over the world know about it, granp? They couldn't all hear Him say it," she asked.
"No, and they don't all know it yet, though it's nearly one thousand nine hundred years ago since the Lord spoke it. But they will in time," said the old man softly, as though speaking to himself. "He left word with His people that they were to teach each other, and they did. You see there wasn't such a great many heard Him, but those that did went about and taught others, and then those they taught taught others again, and—"
"And then some one taught you, and," her face growing suddenly bright, "I'll have to teach somebody. Who shall I teach, granp? Granny knows it, doesn't she?"
Her grandfather smiled. "She knew it before she was your age, child," he said gently.
"Then I'll teach mother."
"Your mother knew it too before she was so old as you are."
"Did she?" said Jessie, surprised. "She never said anything to me about it, then."
"Well, hadn't we best be getting on with the lesson?" asked grandfather; "time is passing, and we haven't hardly begun yet."
Jessie settled back in her chair, and leaning her head against her grandfather, listened quietly while the old man talked reverently to her of her Father in heaven.
"Is He mother's 'our Father,' too, granp?" she asked at last.
"Yes, child, mother's and father's."
"Then He'll take care of her, won't He, and see that she doesn't cry too much for me?"
"Yes. He soothes all the sorrows and wipes away all the tears of them that love and trust Him. Now shall we read a hymn? I like the hymns dearly, don't you, little maid?"
"Oh yes, I love them," said Jessie, sitting up and clasping her hands eagerly. "Let's sing it, granp, shall we?"
"Go on, then. You take the lead."
"What's the lead, granp?" she asked anxiously.
"You start the tune. You begin and I'll join in."
But Jessie grew suddenly shy. "No, I—I can't," she said nervously, sliding her soft little hand into her grandfather's rough one as it lay on his knee. "You begin, granp, please—no, let's begin together, and we'll sing 'Safe in the arms of Jesus,' shall we? I know all of that."
So together rose the old voice and the young one, the first quavering and thin, the other tremulous and childlike, and floated out on the still warm summer air. Mrs. Dawson, reluctant to disturb them, waited in the kitchen with the tea-tray until they had ended, and the tears stood in her eyes as she listened.
"Bless them!" she murmured tenderly, "bless them both."
When the last notes had died away, and grandfather had closed the books and laid them one on top of the other, and their first Sunday-school might fairly be said to be closed, Jessie, looking up, saw her grandmother standing in the doorway, holding a snowy tablecloth in her hand.
"Tea-time!" cried Jessie delightedly, springing to her feet. "I'll carry away the books, granp, and help granny to bring out the tea-things. Now don't you move, you sit there and rest, we will do it all by ourselves."
So the old man, well pleased, sat on and watched his little granddaughter. There was nothing she loved better than to be busy, helping some one.
Such a tea it was, too, that she helped to bring out. First came granny with the tray, with the old-fashioned blue and white tea-set, Jessie's mug and a jug of milk, then followed Jessie with a plate of bread and butter. When all this was arranged, back they went again, soon to reappear, Mrs. Dawson with a delicious-looking apple-pie and a bowl of sugar, while to Jessie was entrusted, what she considered the most precious burthen of all—a dish of cream. And there, amidst the scents of the mignonette and stocks, the roses and jessamine, the Sunday twitter of the birds and hum of the bees, they sat and slowly enjoyed their Sunday meal, lingering over it in the full enjoyment of the peace and calm of the hour and the scene. And oh, how good the tea tasted, and the apple-pie and cream, and the bread and butter, all with the open-air flavour about them, which is better than any other.
Then, having eaten and drunk all they wanted, they sat back in their chairs and talked and listened to the birds and the bees, and gazed about them at the flowers close by and the hills in the distance, looking so far away and still and mysterious in the fading afternoon light. And as they sat there, little dreaming of what was about to happen, a graceful woman's figure came slowly along the sunny road to their gate and there paused.
"Why, it's Miss Grace Barley, I do declare!" cried Mrs. Dawson, rising hurriedly to her feet. "Go and open the gate for her, father, do. Why, whatever is she doing here, at this time of day? Sunday, too, and all. It is very kind of her, I am sure."
Patience began hurriedly gathering together the tea-things and carrying them into the house, Jessie helping her.
"Wouldn't Miss—the lady like some tart, granny?" she asked, as she saw her grandmother beginning to pick it up. To her it seemed that every one must hunger for anything so delicious. Somehow, too, it did not seem very kind to carry it all away from under their visitor's very eyes.
"Well, now, I declare, I never thought of that," said granny pausing and replacing the pie on the table, "at any rate, I can but ask her. I'll put the kettle on, in case she hasn't had any tea."
Meanwhile Thomas had let their visitor in and welcomed her warmly, and they came slowly up the path together, looking at the flowers as they passed. Jessie stood by her little chair, watching the lady. She knew she was the Miss Grace Barley who lived in one of the pretty houses by the green, and she thought she looked as pretty as the house and just right to live in it.
When they came close Miss Grace smiled at her, then stooped and kissed her. "You are Jessie, I know," she said kindly. "I have seen you in church with your granny and grandfather."
"Yes, miss," said Jessie shyly, not quite knowing what to say, but feeling that something was expected of her, "and I have seen you there."
Mrs. Dawson came out of the house, and Miss Grace shook hands with her. "You must wonder to see me here at this time of day, Mrs. Dawson," she said brightly. "The organist at Hanford is ill, and I have been out there to play the organ at the morning and afternoon services; I was on my way home when I caught sight of you all in your pretty garden, and I couldn't resist coming in to join you."
"I'm sure we're very glad you did, miss," said Patience warmly. "And you haven't had any tea yet, Miss Grace, I'll be bound now."
Miss Barley smiled and shook her head. "No, I have not, I am really on my way to it, but I would rather sit here for a few moments first, though, and talk to you."
"You can do both, miss, if you will," said Patience hospitably. "I was about to clear the tea-things away, thinking they looked untidy, when Jessie stopped me. She was sure you would like a piece of apple-pie and cream, and I was sure you'd like a cup of tea with it; so the kettle is on and I'll have a cup ready in a minute if you'll excuse my leaving you. Thomas, give Miss Grace a chair," and Patience bustled away into the house delighted.
Mr. Dawson brought out another chair, and he and Jessie seated themselves one on each side of their visitor. Miss Barley withdrew her admiring gaze from the distant view.
"Don't you love Sunday, Jessie?" she asked, laying her hand gently on the little girl's shoulder. "A Sunday like this, when even the birds and the cattle, and even the flowers seem to be more glad and happy and peaceful than usual."
"Oh yes," said Jessie, losing all her shyness at once, "speshally now when granp and me have Sunday-school out here. We are going to have it every Sunday, ain't we, granp? We shall have it out here when it is fine, but when winter comes we shall go in by the fire."
Miss Grace looked at Mr. Dawson inquiringly. "What a lovely plan," she cried enthusiastically. "Whose idea was it, yours, Mr. Dawson?" and Thomas, blushing a little, told her all about it.
Just as they had finished, granny came out with the tea-tray, and spreading the table again with a tempting meal, drew it up before their visitor, and while Miss Grace ate and drank, they sat and talked to her, and presently Mrs. Dawson poured into her sympathetic ear all their difficulties about the school for Jessie. Miss Grace listened with the greatest attention, the matter seemed to interest her immensely, far more, in fact, than it did Jessie, indeed Jessie wished very much that they would talk of something else, for Miss Grace grew quite quiet and thoughtful, and ceased to notice the pretty things about her, or to talk of things that were interesting to Jessie, and Jessie was sorry. She became interested enough, though, presently, when Miss Grace, having finished her tea and risen to go, suddenly said—
"Well, Mrs. Dawson, I think you will have to let me solve the difficulty of Jessie's education for you, and there is nothing I should like better. You see, our home is quite twenty minutes' walk nearer you than the school-house, and if you will let Jessie come to me, instead of going to school, I will teach her to the best of my ability, and enjoy doing so. At any rate, while she is a little thing. You see, she would not have to come and go twice a day, in fact, she need hardly come every day—but we can arrange the details later, if you agree to it. Now think it over well, and we will talk about it again in a few days' time. And don't say 'no,' because you think it will be too much for me to do, for I should love to educate and train a little girl in the way I think she should be trained. It will be for me a most interesting experience. Now, Jessie, what do you say? Would you like to come to school with me?"
"Like it!" Neither Jessie nor her grandparents could find words to say how much they would like it, nor how grateful they were to Miss Barley; but at the same time they did feel it was too much for them to accept of her. Before, though, they had found words to express their feeling, or had stammered out half their thanks, the sound of the church bells came floating up across the fields, a signal to them all to part.
"I must fly," cried Miss Grace. "Do you think I can run through the lanes without shocking any one? I must go home before I go to church, or my sister will be quite alarmed," and away she hurried as fast as she could.
Patience had only time to carry in the tea-things, and leave them to wash on her return, for she had herself and Jessie to dress and get ready.
They were in time though, after all, for their feet kept pace with their happy thoughts and busy tongues, and there was no lingering on the way that evening.
Granp and granny did not hold out very long against Miss Grace Barley's plan, and in a short time all arrangements were made, and it was settled that Jessie was to go to Miss Barley's pretty house by the green every morning at ten, and to leave it at twelve, so that she might meet her grandfather as he went home to his dinner.
Thomas Dawson was head gardener at "The Grange," Sir Henry Weston's beautiful country-house, which lay a little distance beyond Springbrook station. Just outside the station were four cross-roads with a signpost in the middle of them to tell you where each one led. If you stood close to the signpost and faced the station, the road exactly behind you led down to Springbrook green and village, while the one on your right led along a wide flat road to "The Grange," and on, past that, through villages and towns until at last it reached the sea; and the road on your left led past "Sunnyside Cottage," and then on to Norton. This was the road that Jessie knew best, the one she had first walked with her grandfather on her way home that first evening.
From Miss Barley's house to the signpost was a very short distance, and here it was that Jessie and her grandfather were to meet every day and walk home together. Yet not every day, for Saturday, being a busy day for most people, was to be a whole holiday from lessons.
Miss Grace Barley had to gather flowers for the church and arrange them in the vases on Saturday mornings, and Miss Barley had extra things to do in the house and to go to Norton by train to do her shopping, and Jessie had to help her grandmother clean up the cottage and make all bright and neat for Sunday; so that it was nice and convenient for every one that Saturday should be a holiday from lessons.
On that first morning, when Jessie stood at Miss Barley's door and knocked, she felt very glad indeed to think that the day after to-morrow was Saturday and a whole holiday, for she felt very shy and rather frightened, and she longed to be back at home again with her granny and grandfather. In fact, she was just edging towards the gate, with her mind almost made up to run home, when the door opened, and Miss Grace herself appeared. Miss Grace had on a hat and a large pair of gardening gloves, and in her hand she held a basket and the biggest pair of scissors Jessie had ever seen.
"Oh, Jessie!" she said, "you are just in time. I am going out to gather some flowers, and you will be able to help me. Come in, dear—no, we will not go in yet, we will go first and get the flowers, or the sun will be on them."
Jessie's frightened little face grew quite cheerful again. She thought this a delightful way of doing lessons, and marched along happily enough at Miss Grace's side, soon forgetting all her shyness in helping her to pick out the handsomest stocks and the finest roses. When the basket was full Miss Grace led the way to a window which opened down to the ground.
"This is my very own sitting-room," she said, as she stepped through the open window; "don't you think I ought to be very happy here?"
"Oh yes!" sighed Jessie, as she looked about her at the flowers, the pictures, and all the pretty things. "I shouldn't ever want to go away from it if it was mine."
Miss Grace laughed. "Well, we are going to do our lessons here, and perhaps when twelve o'clock comes you won't be the least little bit sorry to go away from it. But first of all I want you to help me arrange these flowers a little, and then go with me to carry them to a poor lady who is ill. Do you know the different kinds of roses by name, Jessie?"
Jessie did not. "Well, I will tell you some of them, and then you will be able to surprise grandfather. A gardener's granddaughter should know all these things. That lovely spray of little pink roses you are holding is called 'Dorothy Perkins.' You will remember that, won't you? And this deep orange-tinted bud is 'William Allen Richardson.'"
"'William Allen Richardson,'" repeated Jessie. "I think Miss Perkins is much prettier than Mr. Richardson."
Miss Grace laughed. "You are a very polite little girl, Jessie. Look at this one; this is called 'Homer,' but you need not call it Mr. or Mrs., but just plain 'Homer.'"
"I think it ought to be called 'pretty Homer,'" said Jessie, smiling.
By the time they had arranged all the flowers in the basket, she knew quite a lot about the different kinds and their names. Miss Grace made everything so attractive, and it was wonderful what a lot of interesting things she saw as she went about, even when she walked only across the green to Mrs. Parker's to leave the flowers.
Jessie did not see the poor dirty grey toad lying panting and frightened on the pathway, but Miss Grace did, and stooped and picked the poor thing up, and carrying it into her garden, placed it in a nice cool shady corner, underneath some bushes.
"Won't it bite you, or sting?" asked Jessie, her eyes wide with alarm, but Miss Grace reassured her. "That poor gentle little frightened thing hurt me!" she cried; "it could not if it wanted to, and I am sure it does not want to. It will help to take care of my flowers for me. You are not afraid to stroke it, Jessie, are you? Just look how fast its poor little heart is beating with fright! Isn't it cruel that any living creature should be as terrified as that!"
Jessie was ashamed for Miss Grace to know that she was almost as terrified of the toad as the toad was of her, so she stroked it, though very reluctantly, and the coldness of it made her jump so at first, that she thought she could never, never touch it again; but she tried not to be foolish, and she stroked its little head, and after that she did not mind it a bit, though she was glad Miss Grace did not ask her to carry it.
When they got back to the house they found two glasses of milk and a plate of biscuits in Miss Grace's room awaiting them, and after they had taken them, Miss Grace took down a book and read to Jessie, and Jessie, who already knew her letters and some of the easiest words, read a little to Miss Grace, and before she thought that half of the morning was gone, twelve o'clock had struck, and it was time to dress and run off to meet her grandfather at the four cross-roads.
When Jessie got to her place by the signpost, her grandfather was just coming along the road towards her. In his hand he held a big bunch of white roses and beautiful dark-green leaves. "Oh, how lovely!" gasped Jessie, when she caught sight of them.
"They'm 'Seven Sisters,'" said her grandfather; "they had overgrown the other things so much that I had to cut them back, and her ladyship told me to bring them home to you."
"Oh, thank you!" said Jessie delightedly. "What are the seven sisters called, granp? What is their real name? Of course they must have names."
Her grandfather did not understand her for the moment. "What are they called! Why, Rose, of course; but 'Seven Sisters' is what they're always known by."
"There couldn't be seven all called 'Rose,' could there?" asked Jessie gravely. "They must have a name each. Let me see, one could be 'White Rosie,' another 'Pink Rosie,' then there could be 'Red Rosie,' and 'Rosamund '; that's four."
"Perhaps the others is Cabbage Rosie, Dog Rosie, and Cider Rosie," said grandfather, chuckling.
Jessie burst into a peal of laughter as she thrust one hand into her grandfather's. "What things you do say, granp," she protested, and clasping her bouquet in her other hand, she skipped along by the old man's side. "Oh, I have learnt such a lot of things to-day," she said impressively. "There's one rose called 'Mr. Richardson,' another called 'Miss Perkins,' and another called 'Plain Homer,' and now there's 'Seven Sisters,' all with different names." Then she told him all about the toad, and the little story Miss Grace had read to her. "And to-morrow I am to learn to knit, and soon I'll be able to knit your stockings, granp, and cuffs to keep your arms warm in winter, and a shawl for granny."
"My!" exclaimed grandfather, with pleased surprise, "we shan't know ourselves, we shall be so warm and comfortable. But don't you go overworking yourself, little maid." Jessie laughed gleefully. She loved to think of all she was going to do for her grandfather and grandmother.
"Oh no," she said. "You see, I am very strong, and I like to have lots to do."
And "lots" she did do, in her staid, old-fashioned way. "I don't know whatever I should do without Jessie," granny would often remark to grandfather as the months went by, and Jessie became more and more useful about the house.
"It puzzles me to know how we ever got on before she came," grandfather would answer; and, as time went by, and Jessie grew taller and stronger and more and more capable, they wondered more and more frequently how they could ever have managed without her.
Jessie, too, often wondered how she had ever lived and been happy without her grandfather and grandmother, and "Sunnyside Cottage," and the garden, and the flowers, and her own rose-bush. At first she had thought a great deal about her mother, and wondered when she would come for her; and every nice new thing she had she wanted her to share, and every flower she had she wanted to save for her. But she saved them so often, and then had to throw them away dead, that at last she ceased to do so; and by and by, as the months passed, she grew accustomed to enjoying things without her mother; and at last she gave up wondering when she would come. In fact, for some time before she gave up expecting her, Jessie had begun to hope that when her mother did come, she would not want to take her away with her, but would live there always with herself, and granny, and granp.
Of her father's coming she never spoke but once, and that was when, with a frightened face, she said to her grandmother, "Granny, if father comes for me you won't let him take me away with him, will you?" And granny had reassured her with a sturdy—
"Why, bless your heart, child, your father isn't likely to want you, I can tell you, and he wouldn't dare to come here and show himself to me, I reckon; don't you be afraid, now, granny'll take care of you."
So Jessie tried not to be, and as the years went by, and nothing was heard from either of her parents, her fears lessened, though she could never think of her father without a shudder of dread lest he should some day come to take her away.
Three years had passed peacefully away, and Jessie was about eight years old when the next letter from Lizzie came to her parents.
Jessie never, to the end of her life, could forget the morning that letter reached them. It was a wet, dark November morning, and she had been lying awake for a long time listening to the patter-patter, swish-swish of the rain pouring against her window. She had heard her grandfather go down and open the front door as usual, and light the fire in the kitchen; then she heard him fill the kettle at the pump and put it on to boil. After that he went out again to open the hen-house door, and carry the hens their breakfast. She heard her grandmother go down the stairs, and a few moments later she heard heavy footsteps come splashing up the wet garden path, and very soon go down again.
Jessie got up and dressed herself, and made her way down. She had been singing to herself while she was dressing, so had not noticed anything unusual in the sounds and doings below stairs. But as she went down she did notice that the house seemed very quiet and still, and that there was no smell of breakfast cooking. Usually at this time her grandfather was busy in the scullery cleaning boots and knives, or doing some job or other, while her grandmother bustled back and forth, talking loudly, that her voice might reach above the frizzling of the frying-pan. But to-day there was a strange, most marked silence, broken only by the singing of the kettle, the plash of the rain outside, and a curious sound which Jessie could not make out, only she thought it sounded as though some one was in pain.
When she reached the foot of the stairs, she knew that she was right, and she stood and looked, with her heart sinking down, down, wondering with a great dread what could have happened. Her grandfather was sitting in his usual seat at the end of the table, holding a letter in his hand, while her grandmother stood beside him, her hand leaning heavily on his shoulder; and both their faces looked white and drawn, and full of trouble. Tears sprang to Jessie's eyes at sight of them. Neither was speaking, but every now and then there burst from the old man that strange sound that Jessie had heard, and it was like the cry of a hurt animal.
When she heard it again, and knew whence it came, Jessie flew to him in terror. "Oh, granp, what is it?" she cried. "Who has hurt him?" she cried, turning to her grandmother almost fiercely. "Who has done anything to granp—and you?" she added, when she caught sight of her grandmother's face.
Patience Dawson's hand slipped from her husband's shoulder down to Jessie's, and crept caressingly round the little girl's neck, while the old man threw his arm around her to draw her nearer to him.
"'Tis your mother, child," cried Patience, her words seeming to tumble from her anyhow. "She's dead! Our only child, and took from us for ever, and never knowing how much we loved and forgave her, and how we've hungered night and day for a sight of her—and now I shall never, never see her again!" and then poor Patience broke down, and kneeling beside her husband and grandchild, bowed her head on the table and wept uncontrollably.
At the sight of their trouble Jessie's own tears fell fast. "Mother," she cried, scarcely grasping the real state of the case, and all it meant to her. "Mother! dead? Granp, mother isn't really dead, is she? Won't I—won't I never see her any more," the truth gradually forcing itself on her mind—"won't she ever come and live here with us, and see my rose—and—and all the things I've been saving for her?" Her little face was white now, and her lips quivering with the pain of realization.
Her grandfather shook his head. "She won't ever come to us; never, never no more," he sighed heavily. "But maybe," he added a moment later, speaking slowly and with difficulty, "maybe she sees and knows now, better than she has all these years—and is happier."
"Why didn't she write, why didn't she tell us where she was?" wailed Patience despairingly. "I would have wrote at once and told her how we'd forgiven everything."
"Poor maid," said Thomas Dawson softly, "I reckon she had her reasons; her letter tells us that, without putting it into so many words. Read it again, mother, read it to the child—I can't."
Patience took up the letter, but it was some time before she could control herself sufficiently to begin.
"My dearest Father and Mother,
"This is to tell you I am very ill, dying. The doctor says that if I want to let any one know, I must do so at once. You are the only ones that care, and I am writing to you to say good-bye for ever. I have always hoped that some day I should see you again, and my dear home, and my dearest, dearest child. I am sure you will forgive me the wrong I did, and my cruel behaviour. I couldn't die happy if I didn't feel sure of that; but, dear father and mother, I know your loving hearts. No words can tell how I've pined and longed for my little Jessie, my own little baby, all these years. At first I thought I should have died for want of her, but I knew she was happy—that was my only comfort—and I could not have found clothes nor food for her. I was going to write to you as soon as we were settled, but Harry lost that situation almost at once, and since then we have been on the tramp and never had a home. It has been a cruel life, and I have often thanked God on my knees that my darling was spared it. I know you love her and have taken care of her. Don't let her forget me, dear father and mother, and don't ever let her go from you. She is yours—I give her to you, and I thank you with all my heart for all you've done for her. Give her my love—oh, that I could kiss her dear little face again! Good-bye, dear father and mother, I can never forgive myself for all the misery I have caused you; but I know you will forgive me, and believe I loved you all the time. The woman here is kind to me, and she has promised to keep this letter safe, and send it to you when I am gone. Good-bye." "Your loving daughter," "Lizzie."
The letter, which had been placed in an envelope and directed by Lizzie's own hand, came in a larger envelope, and with it a slip of paper on which was written in a good firm hand, "Your poor daughter died this morning. Yours truly, Mary Smith."
The letter bore the Birmingham postmark, but no other clue.
"We don't even know where she died," sobbed Thomas, "that I may go and bring her home to bury her," and this thought hurt the poor old man cruelly.
"If you did know, he probably wouldn't let you have her poor body, not if he thought you wanted it," cried Patience bitterly. She could not bring herself to mention her son-in-law by name. "He would hurry her into her grave rather than she should come back to us," and then she burst into bitter weeping again.