When she went next to Sunday school, however, and saw Sarah's meek, patient face, Matilda was very much astonished at herself, and not a little ashamed. She sat next Sarah in the class, and could see without seeming to see, how thin her dress was and how limp it was, as if she had not enough petticoats under it to keep her warm. There was a patch too in one place. And Sarah's shawl was a very poor wrap alongside of the well covered shoulders under Matilda's thick coat. "No gloves!" said Matilda to herself, as her eye glanced from her own very handsome and warm ones; "how can she bear it? I wonder how it makes her feel, to see mine? Another time I'll wear an older pair." But the contrast went home to Matilda's heart. Why should she have so many good things, and Sarah so few? and the words David had quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures came back to her.
With an odd feeling as if there were wrong done for which she was somehow chargeable, after the lesson was done and school dismissed she asked Sarah "how she was?" The girl's meek eye brightened a little as she answered that she was well.
"But you are hoarse," said Matilda. "You have got cold."
"O I often do, in the winter time," said Sarah. "I don't think anything of it."
And that slight shawl and thin dress! Matilda's heart gave some painful blows to her conscience.
"I didn't see you at your place the other day," she went on.
"That was Thursday," said Sarah. "No; I was too bad Thursday. I didn't go out."
So she staid at home to nurse her cold, in that cellar room with the mud floor. What sort of comfort could be had there? or what good of nursing? Matilda did not wonder that the street corner was quite as pleasant and nearly as profitable. And the thought of Sarah's gentle pale face as she said those words so went home to her heart, that she was crying half the way home; tears of sorrow and sympathy running down her face, as fast as she wiped them away.
That same evening, at tea-time, Norton asked if she had made up her list of plants for the greenhouse? Matilda said no.
"We shall want them, now, Pink. By Wednesday I shall have the staging ready; and the sooner we get it filled the better."
"O but, dear Norton," said Matilda, "I am very sorry to disappoint you; but I cannot take the money."
"Can't take what money?"
"The money to buy those plants. I would like them; but I cannot."
"But you were making your list," said Norton.
"No, I wasn't. I was only thinking what I would like to have."
"And you are not going to come into the greenhouse at all?"
That was more than Matilda had counted upon; the tears started to her eyes; but she only said,—
"I cannot get the plants, Norton;" and she said it steadily.
"You are going into that ridiculous charitable concern?"
Matilda was beyond answering just then; she kept silence.
"Let me into your greenhouse, Norton," said Judy.
"Yes; fine work you would make there," Norton replied.
"Indeed I would. I'll fill my shelves with just the finest things we can get; camellias, if you like; and the newest geraniums, and everything."
"You wouldn't take care of them if you had them."
"Well, you would," said Judy; "and it comes to the same thing."
"Pink," said Norton, "I must have my shelves full; and I can't do it all. If you won't come into the greenhouse, I shall let Judy come."
"Well, Norton," said Matilda steadily. "If you knew what I know, and if you had seen what I have seen, you wouldn't wonder at me; and I almost think you would help me."
"You'll grow wiser," said Norton, "when you have had your fingers burned a few times."
The tone of cool indifference to her subjects of interest, of slight displeasure at her preferring them to his, went to Matilda's heart. So also it tried her greatly, to see for the rest of the evening Norton and Judy in high confabulation over the catalogues and the greenhouse. She felt shut out from it, and a little from Norton himself. It was hard to bear; and once and again she could not help the tears rising to her eyes. She got rid of them, she thought, cleverly, without any one being the wiser; but David Bartholomew had marked it all. He had not said a word, however; and Matilda went early up to bed; marvelling anew that it should be so difficult to do right. Why must this greenhouse business come up just at this moment?
She had a week to think about it and grieve over it. The boys were going to school again now, and she saw but little of them. Judy had masters and mistresses, and was herself much out of sight. Matilda was to be under Norton's tutelage, it had been agreed; and accordingly he had put certain books in her hands and pointed out certain tasks; and Matilda laid hold of them with great zeal. With so much, indeed, that difficulties, if there were any, disappeared; and Norton had little to do beyond finding out that she was, as he expressed it, "all right," and giving her new work for the next day. So went the work; very busy, and very happy too; only for Matilda's being shut out from greenhouse pleasures and Judy taken into Norton's partnership.
But the next Sunday had a new joy for her. Mr. Wharncliffe informed her after school-time, that he had found a lodging which he thought would do nicely for her poor friends. All Matilda's troubles fled away like mist before the sun, and her face lighted up as if the very sun itself had been shining into it. Mr. Wharncliffe went on to tell her about the lodging. It was near, but not in, that miserable quarter of the city where Sarah and her mother now lived. It was not in a tenement house either; but in a little dwelling owned by an Irishman and his wife who seemed decent people. He was a mechanic, and one room of their small house they were accustomed to let, to help pay their rent.
"Is it furnished, Mr. Wharncliffe?"
"No; entirely bare."
"How large is it?"
"Small. Not so large by one-third as the room where they are living now."
"Can't go and see it?"
"Yes, there is no difficulty about that. I will go with you to-morrow, if you like."
"And how much is the rent, Mr. Wharncliffe?"
"One dollar a week. The woman was willing to let the room to Mrs. Staples, because I was making the bargain and understood to be security for her; only so."
"Then we will go to-morrow, sir, shall we, and see the room and see what it wants? and perhaps you will shew me that place where you said I could get furniture cheap?"
This was agreed upon. To Matilda's very great surprise, David, when he heard her news, said he would go too. She half expected he would get over the notion by the time he got home from school on Monday; but no; he said he wanted a walk and he would see the place with her.
The place was humble enough. A poor little house, that looked as if its more aspiring neighbours would certainly swallow it up and deny its right to be at all; so low and decrepit it was, among better built if not handsome edifices. Street and surroundings were dingy and mean; however, when they went in they found a decent little room under the sloping roof and with a bit of blue sky visible from its dormer window. It was empty and bare.
"Thin, we always has rispictable lodgers," said the good woman, who had taken her arms out of a tub of soapsuds to accompany the party upstairs; "and the room is a very dacent apartment entirely; and warrm it is, and quite. An' we had a company o' childhren in one o' the houses adjinin', that bothered the life out o' me wid their hollerin' as soon as ever we histed the winders in the summer time; but the father he died, and the mother, she was a poor kind of a body that couldn't seem to get along any way at all at all; and I believe she thried, an she didn't succade, the poor craythur! An' she just faded away, like, and whin she couldn't stan' no longer, she was tuk away to the 'ospital; and the chillen was put in the poor-us, or I don't just know what it is they calls the place; and it was weary for them, but it was a good day for meself at the same time. An' the place is iligant and quite now, sir. An' whin will the lady move in, that you're wantin' the room for?"
"As soon as it can be ready for her, Mrs. Leary."
"Thin it's ready! What would it be wantin'?"
"We shall need to move in some furniture, I suppose, and a little coal. Where will that go?"
"Coal, is it? Sure there's the cellar. An' an iligant cellar it is, and dhry, and places enough for to put her coal in. It'll hould all she'll want, Til engage."
"It holds yours too, I suppose?"
"Why wouldn't it? But we'll never interfare for that; small wisdom!"
Mr. Wharncliffe chose to go down and see the cellar. David and Matilda spent the time in consultation. Mr. Wharncliffe came back alone.
"Well," he said, "how do you like it?"
"Very much; but Mr. Wharncliffe, it is not very clean."
"Sarah will soon change that."
"Sarah? Won't her mother help?"
"Mrs. Staples is unable for hard work. She has had illness which has disabled her; and I fancy the damp cellar she has been living in has made matters worse. But Sarah likes to be as clean as she can."
"Well, she can now," said Matilda gleefully. "Mr. Wharncliffe, don't you think they want a little bit of a carpet?"
Mr. Wharncliffe shook his head. "They are not accustomed to it; they do not need it, Matilda. You will have enough to do with your money."
"At any rate, they must have a bureau, mustn't they?"
"There is a wall cupboard," said Mr. Wharncliffe. "That will be wanted, I suppose, for crockery and stores. What would a bureau be useful for?"
"They have not a drawer full, between them."
"But they will have? They must, Mr. Wharncliffe. I am going to get them some, mayn't I?"
Mr. Wharncliffe looked round the little room, and smiled as he looked at Matilda again. "There is a great deal to do with your money, I told you," he said. "Let us reckon up the indispensable things first." He took out his note book.
"Coals are one thing," said Matilda. "They must have some coals to begin with."
"Coals"—repeated Mr. Wharncliffe, noting it down.
"Have they a stove that will do?"
"I am afraid not. I will try and find a second-hand one."
"A table, and two or three chairs."
Those went down in the list.
"And, O, Mr. Wharncliffe, a tea-kettle! And something to cook meat in, and boil potatoes."
"What do you know about cooking meat and boiling potatoes?" Mr. Wharncliffe asked, looking amused. "Those things will perhaps come with the stove; and at any rate do not cost much."
"And then, some decent plates and cups and saucers, and common knives, you know, and a few such things."
"They have some things which they use now. You must not try to do too much. Remember, there are other people who want bread."
"Well—not those things then, if you think not," said Matilda. "But a bedstead, and a comfortable bed, Mr. Wharncliffe; that they must have."
"How about the two boys?"
"They must have another."
"Blankets and sheets and pillows?"
"Yes, sir; and pillow cases. I can make those. Do they cost a great deal?"
"I think not—if you will let me buy them."
"O thank you, sir! I have got money enough, I guess."
"Mrs. Staples will make them. But, my dear, coals, and a stove, and table and chairs and bedstead and bedding, will make a hole in your little stock. Let us see. I will undertake the stove and the coals, and get your beds for you. Chairs and table and bedding, I leave to you."
"Then put down some cups and plates, please, sir; or I will make the list when I go home."
"We can manage it, I think," said David. "You know, I am bound to come in for my share. Where can we get this second-hand furniture?"
Mr. Wharncliffe led the way to the place. What a disagreeable place, Matilda thought. Dirty, dusty, confused, dilapidated, worn; at least such was the look of a majority of the articles gathered there. However, therein lay their advantage; and presently in the eagerness of hunting out the things that she wanted, Matilda half lost sight of the uncomfortable character of her surroundings. A table, strong yet, though its paint was all gone, and chairs of similar qualifications, were soon secured. A bedstead too, which was quite respectable; and Mr. Wharncliffe explained that some bed-tickings could be filled with straw, for beds and pillows. A little chest of drawers with some difficulty was found, to be had for a few shillings; and a stove. Now this last gave Matilda unlimited satisfaction; for it was a tidy little stove, had two or three cooking utensils belonging to it, and an oven which the shopman assured them would bake "first-rate." In that stove and hardware Matilda's fancy seemed to see whole loads of comfort for Sarah and her mother. A happy child was she when they left the shop.
"I believe that is all we can do this afternoon, Tilly," said her friend.
"Yes, sir. I think we have done a great deal. I thank you, sir."
He smiled and turned off to go his way alone; while David, who had been much struck with the sweet gracefulness of Matilda's manner, walked beside her; thinking, perhaps, that Mrs. Laval's adopted child was a different person from what he had fancied.
"What shall I do, now, Matilda?" he asked presently.
"I don't know. O David, I am very much obliged to you for coming with me."
"That won't help your poor people though," said he smiling. "What more do you want to do, or to get, for them?"
"Something to make a decent dress or two," Matilda said confidentially; "but I can do that myself. I don't know, David! things puzzle me. Mr. Wharncliffe says I must not try to do too much, because there are other poor people that suffer, and want the money."
"There are so many, that all your money is but a very little drop on a great desert, Matilda."
"But that one drop will make one spot of the desert better, David."
"Just a little—twenty or thirty dollars—will do a great deal for these poor people. And then, if Sarah learns to work on a machine, you know, and she and her mother get better pay and better work, they will be able to take care of themselves for ever after."
"That's good sense," said David. "But just think of all that row of tenement houses."
"David," said Matilda solemnly, "don't you think it is wrong?"
"That people should be so poor, and live in such places?"
"I suppose it is people's own fault, a good deal."
"But no, very often it isn't. Now Mrs. Staples used to be a great deal better oil; but her husband died, and she got sick, and so she came down to this."
"But where is the wrong, then?" said David.
"Why, just think how much money there is, and what it might do if people tried. Suppose everybody did all he could, David? Suppose every one did all he could?"
"As you are doing. But then where should we stop?"
"I wouldn't stop, till everybody that wasn't wicked was comfortable."
"No, no. I mean, where would you stop in your own giving or spending?"
"I don't know," said Matilda, looking down on the ground and thinking very hard as she walked. "I'll tell you, David. I think the money ought to go to whoever wants it most!"
"Who is to settle that?" said David laughing.
They had got into deep waters of Christian ethics; and it was no wonder if even the theory of navigation was difficult. It served them for matter of busy discussion till they arrived at home. Norton and Judy were just consulting over some greenhouse plants in the hall. It gave Matilda no pang. She passed them, with her own little heart so full of pleasure that seemed far richer and sweeter, that she thought there was no comparison.
The pleasure lasted; for in a day or two there came a great package for Matilda which turned out to be the sheeting and muslin Mr. Wharncliffe had promised to get for her. Matilda had to explain what all this coarse stuff meant, coming to Mrs. Lloyd's elegant mansion; and Mrs. Laval then, amused enough, let her maid cut out the sheets and pillowcases which Matilda desired to make; and for days thereafter Matilda's room looked like a workshop. She was delightfully busy. Her lessons took a good deal of time and were eagerly attended to; and then, at any hour of the day when she was free, Matilda might have been found sitting on a low seat and stitching away at one end of a mass of coarse unbleached cloth which lay on the floor. Mrs. Laval looked in at her and laughed at her; sometimes came and sat there with her. Matilda was in great state; with her workbox by her side, and her watch in her bosom warning her when it was time to leave off work and get ready to go downstairs.
She was busy as usual one afternoon, when she was summoned down to see company; and found with a strange delight that it was her two sisters. Mrs. Laval had received them very kindly and now gave Matilda permission to take them up to her room, where, as she said, they could have a good talk and no interruption. So upstairs they all three went; Matilda had hardly spoken to them till they were in her room and the door shut. Then at first they sat down and used their eyes.
"What in the world are you doing?" said Anne. "Do they make you the seamstress of the family?"
"Seamstress? O Anne, I am doing this for myself."
"Do you sleep on sheets like that?" said Letitia inquisitively. "They don't, I'll be bound."
"Sheets? what do you mean? O Letty, I am not doing these for myself."
"You said you were."
"For myself—yes, in a way. I mean, I am doing this work for my own pleasure; not for my own bed. It is for some poor people."
"For some poor people," Letty repeated. "I think Mrs. Laval might have let one of her servants do it, if she wanted to be charitable, or hire it done, even; and not save a penny by setting you at it."
"She did not set me at it," said Matilda in despair. "O you don't understand. She has nothing to do with it at all."
"Are these yours, then?"
"You bought them and paid for them?"
"Yes. At least, a friend bought them for me, but I am going to pay him the money back."
"Is it your own money?"
"Why yes, Anne; whose should it be?"
"So you have more than you want, and can actually throw it away?"
"Not throw it away, Anne; for these people, that these sheets are for, are miserably off. You would think so, if you saw them."
"I don't want to see anybody worse off than myself," said Letitia. "Why, what is that the child has got in her bosom, hanging to that ribband. What is it?—a watch, I declare! Gold? is it a gold watch really? Think of it, Anne!"
"It was one of my Christmas presents," said poor Matilda, hardly knowing what to say.
"How many other presents did you have?"
Matilda had to tell, though she had a feeling it would not be to the gratification of her sisters. They listened and looked, said little, but by degrees drew out from her all the history of the evening's entertainment.
"That's the way she lives," said Letitia to Anne. "That's the way she is going on; while you and I are making people's dresses."
"But aren't you getting on well?" asked their little sister, sorely bestead to make the conversation pleasant to them.
"We get work, and we do it," said Letitia. "And so make out to have some bread and butter with our tea."
"But you have dinner, don't you?"
"I don't know what you'd call it," said Letitia. "What do you have for dinner?"
"O the boys and Judy Bartholomew and I, we have our dinner at one o' clock."
"Well, what do you have?" said Letitia sharply. "What did you have to-day?"
"We had beefsteak."
"Not all alone, I suppose. What did you have with it?"
"We had oysters," said Matilda unwillingly, "and baked potatoes, and rice, and bananas and oranges."
"There!" exclaimed Letitia. "That's what I call a dinner. What do you suppose Anne and I had?"
"Hush, Letty," said Anne. "Whatever we had, it was our own. We were beholden to nobody for it."
"Have you seen Maria since I have?" Matilda asked, trying to make a diversion.
"No. How should we see Maria? We cannot go jaunting about. We have our work to do."
"But it is nice work. I should think you would be very glad to have it," Matilda ventured.
"Yes, we are, of course," said Anne expressively. "People must live. How much did your watch cost?"
Very unwillingly Matilda named the sum, which Norton had told her. The two sisters looked at each other and rose to depart.
"But you are not going?" cried Matilda. "You haven't said anything to me yet. And I have not seen you for ever so long."
"We could not say anything that would be interesting to you," Anne answered. "And we have to keep at our work, you know. We are busy."
"So am I busy," said Matilda; "very; with my lessons and my other things I have to do."
"And parties," added Letitia, "and poor people. How were you dressed at the party, Matilda?"
"Yes, let us see your dress," said Anne sitting down again.
They scanned and measured and examined the dress, stuff and work, with business as well as with curious eyes; Matilda saw they were taking hints from it. That led to the display of her whole wardrobe. It was not agreeable to Matilda; she had a certain feeling that it was not improving her sisters' peculiar mood of feeling towards her; however, it seemed to be the one way in which she could afford them any the least pleasure. So silks and poplins and muslins, all her things, were brought out and turned over; the fashion and the work minutely examined and commented on; the price detailed where Matilda happened to know it.
"Well, I have got something from that," said Anne, when at last the show was done.
"Yes," echoed Letitia; "I never could make out before, just how that sort of trimming was managed. Now I have got it."
They pulled up their cloaks again and tied their scarfs. Matilda looked on sorrowfully.
"I suppose it's no use to ask you to come and see us," said Letty.
"I can't come often," Matilda answered, "because, you know, I cannot walk there; and I cannot have the carriage except now and then."
"How do you suppose we get along without a carriage?" said Letty.
"You are older. Oh Anne and Letty!" cried their little sister, "I don't know why I have so much and you have so little; but it isn't my fault."
Tears were in her eyes; but her sisters shewed no melting on their part. They answered, that nobody supposed it was her fault. The energy of Matilda's hugs and kisses seemed to impress them, at last.
"Tell me!" said Anne, holding her off to look at her,—"are you happy here? Do they treat you really as their own child? Would you like to come back to us? Because if you would—"
"O no, no, Anne! yes, they do. Yes, I am very happy. I don't want anything but what I have got."
"Well, then you are to be envied," said Anne, relapsing into her former tone; and the two went away. Matilda saw them out of the front door, and then went back to her room and stood at the window a long time, looking down the street by which they had gone. Why did they treat her so? Why was she such a trouble to them? They were much older than she, and her home sympathies had always been more particularly with Maria and her mother in the old days; yet the family had been affectionate and harmonious. The strange barrier which her prosperity had built up between her and them was quite inexplicable to Matilda. At the same time she was filled with sorrow for the contrast which she knew they felt between her circumstances and their own. She mused, how she could give them comfort or do them good in any way; but could not find it. She was a weak little child. And the help she was giving to the poor street sweeper and her mother was more needed and better bestowed there than in any other direction. What would her small means avail towards the wants of Anne and Letitia? But Matilda cried about it some sore tears, as she stood by her window in the growing dusk. Then she went back to the joy of what was coming to Sarah and her mother through her instrumentality.
That joy grew sweeter and sweeter every day. The sheets and pillowcases were finished. The furniture and the stove were moved in. The straw beds Mr. Wharncliffe's care had provided were in readiness. David and Matilda went again to look at the room; and cold and dull though it was with no fire in the stove, there was great promise of comfort.
"Now, David," said Matilda, after she had turned round and round, surveying every side and corner of the room again and again,—"don't you think we might put a little comfort inside that cupboard?"
"Of what sort?" said David smiling.
"It's bare," said Matilda.
"Yes. Well, of course it wouldn't do to put any eatable things here, till just the day they are coming. David!—a thought has just struck me."
"Go on," said David, smiling again. "The thoughts that strike you are generally very good thoughts."
"Perhaps you will laugh at me. But I will tell you what I was thinking. Mr. Wharncliffe says we must not do too much at once; but I should like, David, to have a nice little supper ready for them the day they move in. I don't suppose they have had one nice supper this winter."
"Broiled oysters and salad?" said David.
"No indeed; you know what sort of a supper I mean."
"What would you get? for instance?"
"Let me see," said Matilda, speaking slowly and considering the matter intently. "Some tea there should be, of course; and sugar. And milk. Then, some bread and butter—and herring—and perhaps, a loaf of gingerbread."
"What made you think of herring?" said David, looking very much amused and curious.
"O, I know such people like them very much, and they cost almost nothing."
"If we are giving them a supper, I should say, give them something that costs a little more—something they could not get for themselves."
"O these people don't get even herring, David."
"What do you suppose they live upon?"
"Bread,—and—I really don't know, David! In the country, they would have cheese, and sometimes fish, I suppose; but these people are too poor even for that."
"That's being poorer than anybody ought to be," said David. "I go in for the supper. It's fun. I tell you what, Tilly,—I'll stand a beefsteak."
"O thank you, David! But—there are so many more that want it," said Matilda, looking sober and prudent in odd contrast with her years.
"We can't help them too," said David.
"Better keep the beefsteak, I guess," said Matilda. "O David, I know! Potatoes!"
"What of potatoes?"
"Just what they want. Sure to want them, you know; and exactly the thing. Let us have a good sack of potatoes."
David seemed to be so much amused that he could hardly keep to the practical soberness of the thing. However he agreed to the potatoes. And he and Matilda, moved by one impulse, set off for a hardware store down in one of the avenues, not far to seek; and there spent a most delicious half hour. They chose some common cups and saucers and plates; a yellow pitcher, a sugar bowl and one or two dishes; half a dozen knives and forks and spoons. It was difficult to stop in their purchases, for the poor friends they were thinking of had nothing. So a tin tea-pot was added to the list.
"O David!" Matilda exclaimed again—"we ought to have some soap."
"I dare say," said David dryly. "But we do not get that here."
"No; but seeing that toilet soap put me in mind of it. We get that at the grocer's."
"It won't do for us to send in our grocer's stores just yet. When do your people come to take possession?"
"Next week, I think. O no; not till the very day, David. Now is there anything else we ought to get here?"
"I don't know!" said David. "I could think of a great many things; but as you say, we must not do too much."
"What did you think of?"
"Nearly everything you see here," said David. "It seems to me they must want everything. A coffee pot, for instance; and lamps, and cooking utensils, and brooms and brushes and tubs and coal scuttles."
"O David, stop! They can make coffee in the tea-pot."
"Bad for the coffee I should say!" David responded, shrugging his shoulders.
"And lamps? They cannot buy oil. I guess they go to bed when it grows dark."
"Do they! Great loss of time, for people who live by their labour."
"And a tea-kettle, and a frying pan, and a water pot, came with the stove, you know."
"What can they cook in a frying pan—besides fish?"
"O a great many things. But they can't get the things, David; they don't want ways to cook them."
"Must be a bad thing to be so poor," said David.
"Mustn't it! And there are so many. It is dreadful."
"Don't seem to me it ought to be," said David.
"That is what I think," said Matilda. "And O David,—don't laugh at me as Norton does,—it seems to me it needn't be. If other people would do without having everything, these people need not want everything."
David did smile, though, at Matilda's summary way of equalizing things.
"What would you be willing to go without?" he asked. "Come, Tilly; what of all we have had to-day?"
"A great deal," said the little political economist steadily.
"Meringues and bananas? for instance."
"Why yes, David, and so would you, if it was to give somebody else a dinner."
But here they remembered that the shop man was still waiting their orders, and they left talking to attend to business. David began apparently to amuse himself. He bought a salt cellar, and a broom; and to Matilda's mingled doubt and delight, a rocking-chair. And then they ordered the things home and went home themselves.
The arrangements were all made; the room was ready; the cupboard was stocked with its hardware; even a carpet lay on the floor, for Mrs. Lloyd having heard from David a laughing declaration of Matilda's present longing for an old carpet, had immediately given permission to the children to rummage in the lumber room and take anything they found that was not too good. Matilda was very much afraid there would be nothing that did not come under that description; however, a little old piece of carpet was found that somehow had escaped being thrown away, and that would be, she judged, a perfect treasure to Mrs. Staples; it was sent by the hands of a very much astonished footman to Mrs. Leary's house, and by Mrs. Leary herself put down on the floor; Matilda having bargained for the cleaning of the floor as a preliminary.
Her imagination dwelt upon that carpet, and the furnished, comfortable look it gave the room, with as much recurring delight as other people often find in the thought of their new dresses and jewels. With more, perhaps. Everything was ready now. Mr. Wharncliffe was engaged to tell the good news to Sarah and her mother, and the moving was to take place on Thursday of the next week. All was arranged; and on Monday Matilda sickened.
What could be the matter? Nobody knew at first; only it was certain that the little girl was ill. Dull and feverish and miserable, unable to hold herself up, or to think much about anything when she was laid in bed. It was needful to send for the doctor; and Mrs. Laval took her station by Matilda's pillow.
How time went, for some days thereafter, Matilda but dimly knew. She was conscious now and then of being very sick, heavy and oppressed and hot; but much of the time was spent in a sort of stupor. Occasionally she would wake up to see that Mrs. Laval was bending tenderly over her, offering a spoonful of medicine or a glass of apple water; it was sometimes night, with the gas burning low, sometimes the dusk of evening; sometimes the cool grey of the morning seemed to be breaking. But of the hours between such points Matilda knew nothing; she kept no count of days; a general feeling of long weariness and dull headaches filled up all her consciousness; she reasoned about nothing.
So that it was quite a new experience, at waking one morning, to feel Mrs. Laval's lips pressed to hers for a kiss, and to hear a cheerful voice say,—
"My darling is better!"
Matilda looked up.
"I believe I have been sick," she said, in a weak little voice.
"Indeed you have, darling—very sick. But you are better now. How do you feel?"
"Better," Matilda answered in that same faint, thin little voice;—"weak."
"Of course you are weak! Here is something to make you stronger."
Mrs. Laval brought a tea-cup presently, and fed Matilda with soda biscuit dipped in tea; very nice it seemed; and then she went off again into a sweet deep sleep.
When she awaked from this, it was high day, and the light was let into the room as it had not been for a good while. It all looked natural, and yet new; and Matilda's eyes went from one object to another with a sort of recognizing pleasure; feeling languid too, as if her eyelids could just keep open and that was all. But the light seemed sweet. And her gaze lingered long on the figure of Mrs. Laval, who was standing by the mantle-piece; going over with quiet pleasure every graceful outline and pretty detail; the flow of her soft drapery; the set of the dainty little French muslin cap which set lightly on her hair. Till Mrs. Laval turned, and smiled to see her eyes open.
"Ready for breakfast?" she said gayly.
"I don't believe I could get up, mamma," said the weak little voice.
"Get up! I don't believe you could! But what do you think of having breakfast in bed? Wait; you shall have your face washed first."
She brought a basin and bathed Matilda's face and hands, first with water and then with cologne. It was pleasant to be tended so, and the fine, soft, sweet damask was pleasant, with which the drying was done. Then Mrs. Laval rang the bell, and presently came up a tray which she took from the servant's hands and brought to the bedside herself. Then Matilda was raised up and propped up with pillows, till she could see what was on the plate.
"How nice that cologne is! I haven't had breakfast in a good while before, have I?"
"No, my darling." And Mrs. Laval stooped to press her lips fondly. "What do you say to a little bit of roast bird?"
Matilda was very glad of it; and she enjoyed the delicate thin slice of toast, and the fragrant tea out of a sort of eggshell cup; the china was so thin it was semi-transparent. She made a bird's breakfast, but it was very good, and did her good.
"Mamma," she said, as she drank the last drops from that delicate cup,—"it must be a dreadful thing to be poor! When one is sick, I mean."
"You never will be, darling," said Mrs. Laval.
She was slowly but surely mending all that day. The next morning she had another roast bird for breakfast, and could eat more of it.
"Norton wants to see you dreadfully," Mrs. Laval said as she was feeding her. "And so does David, I believe. How have you and David got to be such good friends?"
"I don't know, mamma. I like David very much."
"Do you?" said Mrs. Laval laughing; "perhaps that is the reason. Like makes like, they say. You are one of the few people that like David Bartholomew!"
"Am I? Why, mamma? Don't you like him?"
"Certainly; he is my nephew. I ought to like him."
"But that don't make us like people," said Matilda meditatively.
"What? that little word ought? No, I think it works the other way."
"But I think I like everybody," Matilda went on. "Everybody some. I don't like all people one as much as another."
"No," said Mrs. Laval. "That would be too indiscriminate. Well, David likes you. That is not strange. And he wants to see you."
"Yes, and Norton. Mamma, I think I would like better to be up, before I see the boys."
"I shall not let them come in before that."
So one or two days still passed, in sleeping and resting and waking to feel stronger every time; and then one afternoon Matilda was taken up and dressed in a warm wrapper, and placed in a delightful easy chair which Mrs. Laval had had brought up for her. She felt very weak, but exceedingly comfortable. Then she saw the door of her room slowly pushed inwards, and the bright head of Norton softly advancing beyond it. So soon as he caught sight of Matilda in her easy chair, he came in with two bounds, knelt down before her, and taking her in his arms kissed her over and over.
"There is one person glad to see you," remarked Mrs. Laval.
Matilda's eyes were glittering with tears; she said not a word.
"Glad?" echoed Norton. "Pink, the house has been too stupid for anything without you. It's astonishing, what a difference one girl makes."
"One girl—" said Mrs Laval.
"Ah!" said Norton. "I didn't say anything about the other. It wouldn't distress me at all to have Judy shut up in her room a few days."
"But not by sickness!" said his mother.
"Not particular how, mamma; do Judy no harm either. She wants taking down somehow."
"Why, Norton," said Matilda, "I thought you were so busy with your greenhouse, you wouldn't miss me much. And Judy and you were getting on nicely with the flowers, I thought."
"Nicely!" repeated Norton. "She doesn't care any more for the flowers than if they were grown to make door mats of. Greenhouse! why, it's as much as I can do to prevent her pulling all the buds off; and when she's got them, as I said, she don't care the least for them. No; the one thing Judy Bartholomew cares for is mischief; and the second is her own way."
"Gently, Norton!" said his mother. "I know somebody else that likes his own way."
"Yes, ma'am, and can't get it—worse luck!"
"O Norton!" said Matilda.
"Well I'd just like to have you tell me then, how I'm to get Judy Bartholomew out of my greenhouse!"
"How did you get her in?" asked his mother.
"I went into partnership with her."
"And I ask, why?"
"Because she had money, mamma; and I wanted the greenhouse in order; and Pink wouldn't."
"Couldn't"—said Matilda. She did not feel like using many words just then.
"Pink, mamma, is the very worst person in the world about having her own way."
"And the very best person in the world about being sick."
"How, mamma?" said Matilda. "I haven't done anything at all but lie still and be taken care of."
"Mamma, she looks pale; and her voice sounds thin; aren't you going to give her something to strengthen her up?"
"She is going to have her supper in a few minutes."
"What are you going to give her?"
"Roast oysters and bread and butter."
"That sounds jolly. I'd stay and have some too; only I have got to see a fellow round the corner. Good-bye, Pink. I'm off. Eat as many oysters as you can!"
And off he ran. Matilda was disappointed; she was very fond of him, and she thought he might have liked better to stay with her this first evening. A little creeping feeling of homesickness came over her; not for any place that was once called home, but for the clinging affection of more hands and voices than one.
"He's a boy, dear," said Mrs. Laval, noticing her look. "Boys cannot bear to be shut up, even with what they love the best. And you are a girl—just full of womanly tenderness. I see it well enough. You will have something to bear in this world, my child. Boys will be boys, and men will be men; but Norton loves you dearly, for all that."
"I know he does, mamma," said Matilda.
But when a few minutes later, Mrs. Laval was called downstairs to see somebody, the feeling she had kept back rushed upon her again. She wanted something she had not got. And she began to think of her best Friend. Matilda had not forgotten him; yet through these days of sickness and weakness, and the constant presence of somebody in her room, she had missed for a long time her Bible readings and all but very short and scattering prayer. She recollected this now; and longing after the comfort of a nearer thought of God and closer feeling of his presence, she got up out of her chair and tottered across the room, holding by everything in her way, to the place where she kept her Bible. Once back in her easy chair, she had to rest a bit before she could read; then she found a place of sweet words that she knew, and rested herself in a more thorough fashion over them.
She was bending down with her volume in her hand to catch the fading light from the window, when another visiter came in. It was David Bartholomew, who having knocked and fancied that he heard the word of permission, walked in and was at her side before she knew it. Matilda started, and then looked very much pleased.
"You are not strong enough to be studying," David said kindly.
"O I am not studying."
"What have you got there that interests you so much, then? to be bending over it like that."
Now Matilda was afraid to say she was reading the Bible, knowing in what abhorrence David held part of her Bible; so she answered with a quick sort of instinct, "It was only a chapter in Isaiah, David."
"Isaiah!" he repeated; "our Isaiah? Let me see, please."
He took the book and looked keenly at the page.
"What interested you so here, Matilda?"
"I was reading that little twelfth chapter. I was thinking of those 'wells of salvation.'"
She was trembling with the fear of saying something or other to displease him, afraid to answer at all; but the simplest answer seemed the best; and she prayed for wisdom and boldness. David was looking hard at the page, and alternately at her.
"It is our Isaiah," he said, turning the leaves back and forward; "it is our Scriptures; but not the Hebrew. I shall learn to read the Hebrew. What were you thinking about the 'wells of salvation,' Matilda?"
Matilda was getting very nervous; but as before, she answered simply the truth.
"I was thinking how sweet the water is."
"You?" said David, with a depth of astonishment which might have made her laugh if she had not been so frightened. "You? what do you know of them, or think you know? These words belong to the time of Messiah ben David."
"Yes," said Matilda.
"What do you think you know about them?"
Matilda thought within herself that here was the end of David's friendship for her. Her heart sank, yet she spoke as before.
"I have drawn water out of them, David; and I know that the water is sweet."
He stood and looked at her, as if he were full of something to say; but perhaps he guessed at her reference, or perhaps he saw her too feeble to be attacked with exciting topics. He shut his mouth and said nothing; and just then the servant entered bearing the tray with Matilda's supper. That made a nice diversion. I think David was glad of it. At any rate he made himself useful; brought up the little table to Matilda's side; set the tea-pot out of her way and spread her napkin on her lap. Then, hearing that Mrs. Laval was detained downstairs, he took the management of things upon himself. He made Matilda's cup of tea; he spread bread and butter; he opened oysters. Nobody could have done it better; but it was always acknowledged that David Bartholomew was born a gentleman. Matilda enjoyed it hugely. She was ready for her oysters, as a little convalescent child should be; and bread and butter was good; but to have David helping her and ministering to her gave to both an exquisite flavour. He was so nice about it, and it was so kind of him.
"That other supper has been sadly put off, hasn't it?" he said as he opened Matilda's last oyster.
"What supper?" said Matilda.
"The supper we had arranged so finely, a long while ago. The celebration of your good woman's moving in."
"My good woman?—O, you mean Mrs. Staples. She hasn't moved in yet?"
"No! we waited for you to get well."
"Waited all this while!" said Matilda. "David, I wonder when I shall be able to go out?"
"Not in a good while, Tilly, to any such entertainment as that. I dare say you can go driving in the Park in two or three weeks."
"But she cannot wait all that while!" said Matilda; and then she stopped. If not, then the moving of Mrs. Staples, and all the delight of the supper to be prepared for her, and the pleasure of seeing her pleasure, must be for others; not for the little planner and contriver of the whole. For a minute Matilda felt as if she could not give it up; this rare and exquisite joy; such a chance might not come again in a very long while. She wanted to see how the stove would work; she wanted to hear the kettle sing, and to set the table with the new cups and saucers, and to make the tea that first time, and give the in comers a welcome. Could all that be lost? It seemed very hard. Matilda's eyes filled with tears.
"What is the matter?" said David kindly.
Matilda struggled to speak. She knew what she must say; but at first she could hardly get the words out. She hesitated, and David repeated his question.
"It won't do for them to wait so long," she said, lifting her eyes to his face.
"Who? your poor people there? Well, it does seem a pity, looking at the place where they are now."
"It won't do," Matilda repeated. "It is best for them to go right in, David. But I can't manage it. I can't do anything."
"Will you trust me?"
"O yes! if you'll do it. But won't it be a great trouble to you, David?"
"On the contrary, I shall like it capitally. You tell me exactly what you want done, and I'll attend to it."
"O thank you! Then you'll have to get the supper things, David."
"Yes, I know all about that."
"And get Mr. Wharncliffe to tell Mrs. Staples."
"And—can you buy some calico for me?"
"Certainly. But I'd put something warmer on them than calico, Tilly."
"I don't know," said David laughingly; "I don't know what women wear. But I suppose I can find out. Something warm, Tilly; the air is snapping and biting out of doors, I can tell you."
"O well, do see about it as soon as you can, David, and let them move in by Saturday; can't you?"
David promised. And when he was gone, and Matilda was alone in bed again at night, she fought out her whole fight with disappointment. Rather a hard fight it was. Matilda did not see why, when she was about a very good thing, so much of the pleasure of it should have been taken away from her. Why could not her sickness have been delayed for one week? and now the very flower and charm of her scheme must fall into the hands of others. She dwelt upon the details, from which she had looked for so much pleasure, and poured out hearty tears over them. She was as much in the dark nearly as Job had been; as much at a loss to know why all this should have befallen her. All the comfort she could get at was in imagining the scenes she could not now see, and fancying all over and over to herself how Sarah and her mother would look and feel.
After that day Matilda's improvement was steady. Soon she had Norton and Judy and even David running in and out at all hours, to see her or to tell her something.
"Great news," said Norton bursting in as usual one evening. "What do you think, Pink? David and Judy have been to be catechized."
"Catechized?" Matilda repeated. "Do they learn the catechism?"
"Not yours, I promise you," said Norton. "No, not exactly. But they have been to a Jewish catechizing; to be examined in the Jews' Scriptures, you know, and all that. They ought to have been catechized, it seems, when they were younger; but David and Judy have been travelling about and there has been no chance. Now they've got it! And O how Davy has been studying his Bible."
"His Bible is just like ours, isn't it?—all but the New Testament?"
"He thinks that's a pretty large 'all but.'"
"But the rest is just the same as ours?"
"I suppose so; yes, I believe so. And they have had a great time, and Davy has come off with a blue ribband or something, and been greatly distinguished."
"Well?" said Matilda eagerly.
"Well. They all went to it, grandma and aunt Judy, and they don't know whether they are most pleased or most vexed."
"Vexed?" repeated Matilda.
"Yes. You see, their Jew friends and relations are getting great hold of Davy; and now I suppose he will be more of a Jew than ever."
"How will that make him different?" said Matilda, puzzled.
"Different?" said Norton. "Why, you don't think Jews are like all the rest of the world, do you?"
"I don't know," Matilda answered. "I think—if I was a Jew—I would like it."
To which Norton answered at first with a questioning frown; then cleared his brow and laughed.
"You'd like anything that made you different from the rest of the world," he said. "But you're a Pink! and that makes it of course."
"You used to say I was a brick," said Matilda.
"So you are. I'll fight any boy that says you aren't."
But that made Matilda laugh so much that Mrs. Laval, coming in, was afraid she would fatigue herself; and she sent Norton away. Matilda after this was very curious and a little anxious to see David, and find out what change his being "more of a Jew than ever" would have made in him. When he came, she could not find any change. It was Saturday evening, after tea; so rather late. He came to bring her the news she wanted.
"Well, it's done, Matilda," he said as he entered.
"And all right, David?"
"Right as can be. Don't you get excited, and I will tell you all about it."
"You are very kind, David," said Matilda, trying to be quiet; but there were two pink spots on her pale cheeks.
"The carpet was down, and made the place look like another thing. Then Mrs. Leary had brightened up the bureau and the chairs and table, and blacked the stove and made a fire. It seemed quite like a home waiting for somebody. Mrs. Leary folded her arms, and made me take notice what she had done, and 'expicted I would consider it,' she said."
"Expected you would consider it?" said Matilda.
"Yes. Don't you know what that means? Expected I would pay her for her trouble."
"Ah!" said Matilda. "Did you?"
"Yes, of course. But I made her make up the bed and fill the kettle before she had done. 'An' sure it was iligant, and fit for society,' she said; whatever that meant."
"Fit for company, I suppose, David. But who made the coffee?"
"Wait a bit: I'm coming to that. I was in a puzzle about it; for I wasn't sure of Mrs. Leary, and Norton and I didn't know enough."
"Norton? was Norton there?"
"To be sure; at first. He and I got everything else together. Mrs. Leary had washed the china and the tin ware; and we bought cheese, and tea and coffee, and herring, and buns, and gingerbread."
"And bread?" said Matilda, looking in tensely interested.
"No; buns. And soap we ordered in too, Tilly; Norton is great on soap. I should never have thought of it. And when we had done all we could think of, we sat down to watch the fire and guard the things till some body came. And we got talking about something else and forgot where we were; when all of a sudden the door pushed softly open and a girl came in—"
"Sarah!" cried Matilda.
"Wait. There came in this girl, and stood there, looking. And we looked. 'Is this Mrs. Leary's?' she asked. 'No,' said I; 'the rest of the house is. Mrs. Leary's, I believe; but this room belongs to Mrs. Staples.' 'And you're Sarah, aren't you?' Norton cried out. I wish you had seen the girl, Tilly! She came a little way further in, and stopped and looked round, and had all the work in the world to keep herself from breaking down and crying. Her face flushed all over. She wanted to know if we were sure if there was no mistake? So I told her about you, and how you were sick, and how you had commissioned us to get ready all these things; and Norton shewed her where to hang her bonnet and shawl; for she was in a bewildered state. And then I bethought me and told her we wanted somebody to make the coffee. I think, Tilly, she was as near the condition of Aladdin, when he got into the magician s cave, as ever a mortal could be in this actual world. But she went to work, and that helped her to feel she was not dreaming, I suppose. She made the coffee,—and all the while I could see her fingers trembling;—and she cooked the herring; and I stood it, herring smoke and all; it was the best fun I've seen this winter—"
"Since Christmas," Matilda put in, but her own eyes were very bright and glittering.
"Christmas was nothing to it!"
"I wish I had been there."
"I wish you had. There was nothing else wanting. And I wish you could have seen Sarah's eyes; I think she was afraid to look around her. She would give a glance at something, the chest of drawers, or the bed, and then the tears would spring and she would have just as much as she could do to mind her cooking and not break down. I didn't know coffee smelt so good, Tilly."
"You know about that, eh? Well, we were all ready, and Sarah set the table, but Norton and I had to bring out the buns and gingerbread and the cheese; for I don't think she would have dared. And then the door opened once more, and in came Mr. Wharncliffe, and Sarah's mother and those two poor little imps of boys."
"I don't know much about them," said Matilda.
"I know they are very ragged. Of course, how could they help it? The mother looked as if she would easily fall to pieces too. But I saw the smell of the coffee brightened her up."
"And then you came away, I suppose?"
"Yes, of course. Mr. Wharncliffe just saw that everything was right and looked after the coal and things; and then we left them to take their supper in peace."
"I'm so glad!" said Matilda, heaving a deep sigh. "And I am very much obliged to you, David."
"For nothing," said David. "I had a good time, I can tell you. I should just like to do the whole thing over again. Why, it didn't cost much."
"Only Mr. Wharncliffe says we have to be very careful to know about people first, before we give them things; there are so many deceivers."
"Yes, I know that," said David. He stood looking into the light and thinking. Matilda wondered what he was thinking about; she could not ask him as she would Norton.
"It isn't right!" he broke out.
"It isn't right that there should be such a difference in people; we here, and they there."
"Mr. Wharncliffe says there must be a difference. Some people are clever and industrious, and others are idle and lazy; and that makes differences."
"That ought," said David; "but then the people that are not idle or lazy, but sick or unfortunate, like these people; they ought not to be left in hunger and cold and rags."
"So I think," said Matilda eagerly; and then she stopped; for she was not so free with David as to tell him all her thoughts; at least not unless he asked for them.
"It puzzles me," David went on. "I can't see my way out of the puzzle; only I am sure there is wrong somewhere."
"And it must be right for each of us to do all he can to help," said Matilda.
David shook his head. "One goes very little way."
"But that is all we can do. And if every one would—"
"Every one will not, Tilly; there it is."
"No. I know it; but still, David, people have to do so."
"Why, each one by himself, I mean."
"Well," said David, smiling, "that's safe for you. I mean to study the subject."
Matilda was slow in getting over her sickness. It would not do to think of lessons or let her do anything that would weary her. Instead of that, she was taken to drive, and supplied with materials and patterns for worsted work, and had books at command. Whatever would please her, in short; at least whatever Mrs. Laval could think of; for Matilda made no demands on anybody. She was very happy; feeling well but weak, just so as to draw out everybody's kindness; and obliged to be quiet enough to thoroughly enjoy her happiness. She made great progress in the affections of the family during this rime; they found a sweetness and grace and modesty in her that presently seemed like to make her the house darling. "She is not selfish," said Mrs. Lloyd. "She is really a very graceful little thing," said Mrs. Bartholomew. "She is honest," said David. "She is the gentlest, most dutiful child in the world," said Mrs. Laval; but Mrs. Laval did not say much about it. She was growing excessively fond of Matilda. Norton declared she was a brick. Judy said nothing. Then they would begin again. "She is a thoroughly courteous child," said Mrs. Lloyd. "I do think she is a good little thing," said Mrs. Bartholomew. "She has her own opinions," said Norton, who liked her the better for it. "They are not bad opinions either," remarked David.
"Aren't they!" put in Judy. "Wise and extremely courteous she was about the liqueur glasses, don't you think so?"
"What about the liqueur glasses?" Mrs. Lloyd demanded; and though Norton and David both tried to stop the recital, out it would come, for the second time. Judy would not be stopped. Mrs. Lloyd seemed rather serious but by no means as much disgusted as Judy would have liked.
"She had her own opinions, as Norton says," David remarked; "but she behaved perfectly well about the whole affair; perfectly courteous, Judy."
"Very ridiculous, though, for such a child," his mother added.
"How should she be courteous?" said Judy, scornfully. "She has had no sort of bringing up."
"I should be glad to see you as courteous, and as graceful about it," said Mrs. Bartholomew. Whereat Judy tossed her head spitefully and meditated mischief.
They did not know how it was. All was true they had said respecting Matilda's manners; and this was the secret of them; she was most simply trying to live up to her motto. For this Matilda studied her Bible, watched, and prayed. It was not herself she was thinking of, or trying to please; her obedience and her pleasantness and her smallest actions were full of the very spirit of reverence and good-will; no wonder it was all done gracefully. The days and weeks of sickness and feebleness had been a good time for the little girl, and the kindness she received made her heart very tender. She sought ways to please; above all, ways to please God. It was in doing "all in the name of the Lord Jesus" that her manners became so lovely and her presence so welcome to almost all the family; and her happy little face was an attraction for even old Mrs. Lloyd, who did not confess to finding many things in the whole world attractive now. But Judy vowed in secret she would disturb this opinion of Matilda, if she could manage it.
So she chose her time. Mrs. Lloyd, and indeed all the elders of the family, were extremely particular and punctilious about table manners; exacting the utmost care and elegance in everything that was done. One Sunday there was company at dinner; only one or two gentlemen who were familiar friends, however, so that the young people were not debarred their weekly pleasure and privilege of dining with their grandmother. Judy managed to place herself next to Matilda, and held her position, though Norton as openly as he dared reminded her she had no right to be there. It was impossible to make a disturbance and he was obliged to give up the point. Matilda wondered at what she supposed an uncommon mark of favour in Judy; and resolved to be as nice a neighbour as she could. There was not much chance, for of course talking, except a low word now and then, was out of the question. It happened that one of the servants was for some reason out of the way, and there was not the usual abundant service of the table. Just when everybody was helped, Judy somewhat officiously handed somebody's plate to Matilda to be passed for some oysters. The plate came back to her full; it had meat and gravy and oysters and maccaroni on it, and was heavy as well as full. Carefully giving it, as she thought, into Judy's hand, Matilda was dismayed to find it seemingly slip from her own; and down it went, taking impartially Judy's dress and her own in its way. Turkey gravy and oysters lodged on Judy's blue silk; while the maccaroni, rich with butter and cheese, made an impression never to be effaced on Matilda's crimson. The little girl absolutely grew pale as she looked down at the disastrous state of things, and then up at Judy. Judy's eyes were snapping.
"Did I do that?" said Matilda, in a bewildered consciousness that she had not done it.
"O, I guess not," replied Judy; in a tone which civilly said, "Of course you did!" Matilda dared not look at anybody else.
"You had better go up and change your dress, Matilda," said Mrs. Laval gravely. And Matilda went, greatly disconcerted. She was a very dainty child herself; rudeness and awkwardness were almost as abhorrent to her as they were even to Mrs. Lloyd; and now she felt that she had disgraced herself, mortified Mrs. Laval, and displeased the old lady; besides drawing down the censure and slighting remark of Mrs. Bartholomew. But had she done the thing? She was supposed to have done it, that was clear, from the tone of Mrs. Lloyd's voice and from Mrs. Laval's command, as well as from Judy's words; that young lady herself had kept her place in the dining room, for all that appeared. And Matilda's beautiful crimson dress was spoiled. No doubt about it; when she had got it off and looked at it she saw that the butter and cheese had done their work too thoroughly to leave any hope that it might be undone. No acid or French chalk would be of any avail there. Poor Matilda! she was very much dismayed. She had a particular fancy for the colour of that dress; it was a beautiful shade; and Mrs. Laval liked it; and Matilda wondered if she was displeased; and wondered with still increasing persuasion that the fault had not lain with her. But who could prove that? And as it was, the charge of gross carelessness and inelegance lay at her door; a charge above others that she was unwilling to bear.
She would not venture down to the dining-room again, not knowing whether she would be welcome; she sat in the dark thinking, and crying a little. But when there came a knock at her door, she got rid of all traces of tears. There was Norton, who had brought her some Chantilly cake which she was very fond of; and close behind him stood David, smiling, and bearing on a plate a great slice of ice cream. Matilda's hands were both filled.
"Oh thank you!" she said from the bottom of her heart; "O how kind you are!" Then as she glanced again at David's benign face, she half exclaimed, "Did I do that?"
"No," said David, the smile vanishing.
"She didn't?" cried Norton. "Who did?"
"Judy!" echoed Norton.
"I thought I didn't do it," said Matilda, forgetting her ice cream; "but I was so bewildered, and Judy seemed to think it was I—"
"I saw the whole thing," said David. "It was not you. You were not to blame at all. Your fingers had unclosed from the plate before hers did."
"Did she do it on purpose?" said Norton wrathfully, "and let Pink bear the blame? She shan't bear it two minutes longer!"
He was rushing away, but Matilda made one spring and planted herself right in his way.
"What are you going to do?"
"Set this thing to rights."
"How? Why by telling the truth."
"Stop, Norton; there is company."
"All the more reason. Should you be disgraced before company?"
"Hush, Norton, stop," said Matilda eagerly, and getting both her plates in one hand that she might lay hold of him with the other. "You mustn't, Norton. Don't stir, or you'll make me throw down my ice cream, and then I shall be disgraced."
To prevent the possibility of such a catastrophe, David took the plates from her, and Matilda grasped Norton with both her little hands.
"I'm going!" he said.
"No, you aren't."
"I am, I tell you, Pink. I'll not stand by and allow it. I'll expose Judy and clear you, before everybody, this minute."
"Stop, Norton. You can't do it. Listen to me. You mustn't."
"Now is the very time."
"You mustn't do it at all. I'll tell mamma. I may do that; but you must not say one word about Judy to anybody. I shall get mamma to keep quiet too. You must, Norton."
"She's right, old fellow, that this isn't the time," said David. "Grandmamma would stop your argument very short."
"And you must not say a word, Norton. For my sake! You couldn't prove anything, Norton, and it would only make mischief and do harm. Let it alone, and then it is nothing."
"Nothing!" cried Norton in great dudgeon.
"Nothing but a little inconvenience to me, and that will be all over by to-morrow. Promise me, Norton; and then I can eat my ice cream in peace."
"You must promise quickly then," said David, "for it is beginning to melt."
Norton scolded and grumbled yet, however Matilda saw that she might take her cake and cream; and she eat it looking at him, and enjoying it very much.
"What's the use of being right then," said Norton, "if nobody is to know it? And you are provoking, Pink! you look just as if nothing was the matter."
"Nothing is the matter, thank you," said the little girl.
"You don't look angry."
"I don't think I am angry."
"You ought to be."
"I think I'm too happy to be angry," said Matilda, finishing her ice. And she looked so cool that Norton could not keep hot. He and David took her empty plates away for her; and so ended that day's trouble. Nevertheless, fruits of it appeared afterwards.
A little while after this Sunday, Norton sickened with the same fever Matilda had had. There followed a long, very quiet time, during which she was much left to herself. Mrs. Laval was in the sick room; for if she was not a skilled nurse, she was a most affectionate mother; and in the cases of both her children, she either did herself or watched over everything that was done. Matilda was not allowed to be with Norton and help, which she would have liked; it was thought that her strength was not sufficiently recovered. So the little girl lived in her room; crept down and up for her meals; was as quiet as a mouse; and endured not a little mischief from Judy's hands. Judy revelled. She was as full of life as of mischief, and she made Matilda her butt. The children generally dining together alone, she had a fair field; for David could not interpose to prevent Judy's sly provocations. They were too sly, and too quick and shifting, and too various and unlooked for. Sometimes she patronized Matilda, as a little country girl; sometimes she admonished her, very unnecessarily, in the same character; sometimes Judy took a tone more offensive still and accused her of artful practices to gain Mrs. Laval's favour. David and others were present; but they did not always see what was going on; or if they attempted to put Judy in order, the attempt was too apt to provoke more trouble than it stopped. Matilda bore a good deal of trial, those weeks; for she was naturally a spirited child, ready to resent injuries; and besides that, she was a clever child, quite able to return Judy's sharp speeches. She said very little to them, however, except what was good-humoured. Her cheek flushed now and then; sometimes her little head took its old set on her shoulders, extremely expressive, and equally graceful and unconscious; the boys would laugh, and Judy toss her own head in a different fashion. These things gave Matilda a good deal of work in her own room. She used to hunt out passages that spoke of forgiveness and kindness and the management of the tongue and the bridling of anger; and then she used to pray over them, and not once or twice. So Judy never could prevail much with her. However, Matilda wished for many reasons that Norton would get strong and well again and Mrs. Laval be in her old place. As he grew better, she began to be very much in his room; taking care of him, reading or talking to him, and having very nice times planning garden for Briery Bank when they should go home. That would not be early this year, Norton said he was afraid, because of his school; but at any rate they would run up at the Easter holidays and set things in train.
One day Matilda was coming upstairs, after an uncomfortable lunch with Judy alone. She came slowly, for she was weak yet, thinking that Judy was a very difficult person to get along with. David had not appeared at the meal. Just as Matilda reached the head of the stairs at her own door, he came out of his room.
"Tilly," said he in a choked kind of voice, "come here! I want you."
A very odd way for David to speak, she thought; and looking at him she perceived that he had not his usual calmness and gravity, in face any more than in voice. He was flushed and agitated, and troubled, it seemed to her. Matilda obeyed his call instantly and he led the way into his room and shut the door. Then she waited for him to speak and tell what he wanted of her; but that seemed to be somehow difficult. David hesitated, struggling with himself, she could see; yet no words came. Matilda was too much in awe of him to speak first. David had been very kind to her lately; but he was older, older even than Norton, and much graver; and she did not know him so well. She waited.
As for David, he could hardly speak, or he had great difficulty in the choice of words. He fidgeted a little, taking one or two turns across the room, flushed and paled again, then faced Matilda and spoke with desperate resolution.
"Tilly, what do you know about—that person—I mean the One you think so much of, and call your Messiah?"
Matilda was extremely astonished. "Do you mean—Jesus?" she asked doubtfully and not a little afraid.
"Yes—yes. What do you know about him?"
"I know he loves me," she said softly.
"Loves you! How do you know that? how can you know that?"
"Because I love him, David; and I know he loves me. He has said so."
"Said so! I beg your pardon. How has be said so?"
"In a great many places. And in a great many ways, David. He died for me."
"Died!" repeated David again; then controlling his excitement, which was very great, he again asked Matilda's pardon. "What do you mean by saying he died for you? for you, or anybody? He was put to death by the Romans, because he set himself up for a king."
"He didn't," said Matilda eagerly; "not in the way the people said. He told Pilate himself that his kingdom was not of this world; and he told the Jews to pay tribute to Caesar. They accused him for envy."
"Anyhow, he was put to death like any other criminal. Why should you say he died for you? Have you any reason?"
"Have you got a Bible here, David?"
"Not your Bible. I have the Scriptures of Moses and the prophets."
"Those are what Jesus said told about him. But just let me run and get my Bible, David; I want to shew you something. I'll be back in one minute."
He made no objection; and Matilda rushed out to her own room, threw off her cloak and hat, dropped down on her knees for one instant to pray that the Lord would teach her what to say to David; then seized her Bible and ran back to him. She was almost as excited now, outwardly, as he seemed; her little fingers trembled as she turned the leaves over.
"See here, David," she said. "That night, the night of the passover, you know; the night before he died; he was at supper with the twelve disciples—"
"What twelve disciples?"
"Those who were always with him; they were the apostles afterwards. Look here. He broke bread and told them to eat it, and said it was his body broken for them; and then a cup of wine; and this is what he said about that. See."
"Read it," said David.
"'This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.' Testament is the same word as covenant, Mr. Wharncliffe says."
"Covenant!" cried David.
"Yes. In this other place he says, 'This cup is the new testament or covenant, in my blood, which is shed for you.' That is the new covenant that Jeremiah promised."
"Jeremiah!" cried David again; "what do you know of Jeremiah? Is that in your Bible?"
"Certainly it is. Isaiah and Jeremiah, and all of them."
"But what do you mean about that new covenant? you don't know what you are talking of, Tilly."
"O yes, I do, David. Look here; here is the place in Jeremiah; we had all about this in our lesson last Sunday. Look here, David. 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord.
"'But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.'"
Matilda stopped and looked up at David.
"I know all that very well," he replied; "that will be in the days of Messiah."
"Jesus said it was then. He said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.'"
"How could that be? what meaning is there in that?"
"Why, David,—don't you see? His blood did it."
"Why! bought forgiveness for us, so that God could give us the new covenant. It is a covenant to forgive us and make us holy for Jesus' sake. Mr. Wharncliffe was explaining it only last Sunday."
"I don't want to hear what Mr. Wharncliffe said. Tell me only what you know."
"Well, David, I know it's all true."
"Tilly, how can you?"
"Why, David,—I know Jesus has taken away my sins; and I think he is writing his laws on my heart."
"But Tilly!" David exclaimed with a sort of anxious impatience, "you don't know what you are talking about. You mean that this—Jesus—was our Messiah."
"Yes," said Matilda. "He said he was."
"He said he was?" exclaimed David.
"Yes, to be sure he did."
"But you don't know. The Scriptures of the prophets declare that Messiah will be a great king."
"Yes," Matilda answered slowly, looking at him. "Jesus is a great King."
"No!" said David quickly. "He was crucified."
"But he rose again, and went back to heaven."
"They stole his body away," said David, "and made believe he was risen."
"O no, that was what the priests told the soldiers to say; but we know he rose again, David, for they saw him—the apostles and Mary Magdalene, and all of them; over and over again."
"But the Scriptures say he shall, I mean Messiah, he shall conquer the enemies of Israel and deliver us."
"I think that means the true Israel," said Matilda.
"The true Israel!" said David. "Who are the true Israel? I am one of them. Abraham's children."
The boy spoke proudly, defiantly, as if he felt the noble blood of kings and prophets in his veins, and the inheritance his own. Matilda found it very difficult to go on. So far she had been able to answer him, having given attention to her Sunday school teaching and that teaching having lately run in a course fitted to instruct her on some of the points that David started. But she did not know what to say now. She was silent.
"Look here," said David in the same tone. He seized his Bible which lay at hand, and turning over the leaves stopped at the prophecy of Daniel, and read, not after the common English version—
"'I was seeing in the visions of the night, and lo, with the clouds of the heavens as a son of man was one coming, and unto the Ancient of Days he hath come, and before him they have brought him near. And to him is given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, and all peoples, nations and languages do serve him; his dominion is a dominion age-during, that passeth not away, and his kingdom that which is not destroyed.'" David read, and paused, and looked up at Matilda.
"Yes," said Matilda nodding; "that is just what the angel said about Jesus."
"The angel that came to tell that he was coming. See, David, wait,—I'll find it; here it is! 'He shall be great; and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.'" And in her turn Matilda looked up at David.
"But what kingdom has he?" David asked, between anxiously and scornfully.
"Why, I remember he said, 'All power is given unto me, in heaven and in earth.'"
"It don't shew," said David. "Christians are a small part of the world, and not the strongest part by any means."
"No, I didn't say they were. I only said Jesus is the King."
"And I say again, Tilly; you have nothing but words to shew for it. How is he king?"
"O but, David, wait; look here,—I'll find the place in a minute or two—"
She sought it eagerly, but it took a little while to find any of the words she wanted. David waited patiently, having evidently much on his mind. At last Matilda's face lighted up.
"Here, David; this is what I mean; I was afraid to put it in my own words. 'And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come,'—you see they thought as you do;—'he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo, here! or Lo, there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.' That's it, David, don't you see? He is king in people's hearts."
"The Messiah is to reign in another fashion than that," David returned. "The Targum says, 'a King shall arise from Jacob, and Messiah be exalted from Israel; then he shall kill the great ones of Moab, and he shall rule over all the children of men;' and 'to him are all the kingdoms of earth to be subjected.' The Lord will destroy his enemies who rise to put his people to shame; he will thunder upon them with a loud voice from the heavens; the Lord shall exact vengeance from Magog, and from the army of the thundering nations who come with him from the ends of the earth, and he will give strength to his King, and magnify the kingdom of his Messiah.'"
"That isn't out of the Bible, is it?" said Matilda, bewildered.
"No; it's the Targums."
"I don't know what the Targum is."
"It is a book, or books rather, of the words of our wise Rabbis; explaining the Scripture."
"I don't know anything but the Bible," said Matilda meekly; "and I don't know but a little of that."
"Well, you see, Tilly, that our Messiah is to be King in a grand fashion, and rule over all kingdoms; and make his people rule with him."
"O that's like the New Testament!" Matilda cried.
"What part of it?"
"I don't know exactly where it is; I'll look; but David, Jesus is going to reign so by and by, I know."
"You know!" said David.
"Yes; for he said so."
"Who said so?"
"Why, Jesus. Here—stop!—no, here it is, one place. Listen, David, just to this. 'And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.'—That's what you thought, David."
"Well, but,—" David began.
"Just listen. 'He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.'"
"What's that?" said David.
"Why, don't you understand?"
"No. Not what it has to do with what I was talking about."
"Why, David, the far country is heaven; and Jesus is gone there until the kingdom is ready, or till he is ready to take it."
"You have nothing but words to shew for it."
"No, of course; but they are God's words, David; so they are true."
"Take care!" said he, and his dark eye fired and glowed; "you mustn't talk so. You know I don't believe that."
"That his words are God's words."
"But don't you remember," said Matilda, to whom the words seemed to come in her puzzle, to help her out,—"don't you remember in the Psalms—"
"The Psalms of David?"
"Yes, to be sure, the Psalms of David; don't you remember how it says—Oh, I wish I could find it!—something about 'sitting at my right hand' till his enemies shall be,—I forget what."
"I know!" said David with a curious change of countenance; and in his own book he immediately turned to the place.
"'The affirmation of Jehovah to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.'"
"That's it!" cried Matilda. "Jesus is there now, and by and by he is coming to take the kingdom."
It did not seem as if David heard her; so deep was his pondering over the passage he had just read. Little Matilda watched him curiously; his brow was dark, with what sort of thoughts she could not guess; his eye sometimes flashed and at other times grew intense with looking into what he was studying. But what struck Matilda most was the look of trouble; the expression of grave care upon his lip. He lifted up his head at last, and his eye met her eye, and he was going to speak; when the clang of the dinner bell pealed through the house. That day, for some reason, the children were to dine with their elders. Mrs. Lloyd was particular about attendance at the minute; David and Matilda parted with one consent and without another word, to make themselves ready to go down.
Before Matilda had any chance for more talk in private with David, the week came to an end; and Sunday afternoon found her in Sunday school as usual. But not as usual, she had hardly a word or a minute to spare for Sarah, who was telling of her progress in learning to use a sewing machine and of her own and her mother's bettered health. Delightful as it was, and as Sarah's face was, all luminous with grateful and glad feeling, Matilda through the whole of it was intent upon Mr. Wharncliffe and his motions; and the instant Sarah had left her she sprang to his side.
"Are you busy, sir? can I talk to you?"
"Talk?" said Mr. Wharncliffe; "then we want some time for it, do we?"
"If you please, sir; a little."
"Then we'll talk as we walk. Now, what is it?"
But Matilda waited, until they were out of hearing of all that they knew; then in the solitude of the wide avenue she began.
"Mr. Wharncliffe, I want some advice. I don't just know how to manage something."
"Very likely. Let us hear."
"I want to know how to speak to somebody who does not know about Jesus, and who wants to know."
"That often calls for wisdom," said Mr. Wharncliffe; "but I should think it would not be difficult in your case. You can tell what you know; what Jesus has done and is doing for you, and what he has promised to do for everybody."
"Yes, sir, but it is not that. It is somebody who wants to know whether Jesus is the Messiah?" And Matilda looked up very eagerly in her teacher's face.
"Well. When 'somebody' has found out that Jesus is the Saviour, he will have no doubt that he is the One 'anointed to save.' You know, Messiah, and Christ, mean simply 'anointed.'"
"Yes, sir, I know. But—this person—"
"What of him?" said Mr. Wharncliffe smiling. "Is he a very difficult person?"
"Rather," said Matilda slowly; "because—he has never known that Jesus is the Messiah."
"My dear child, to know that truly, in the full meaning and scope of the words, is what no one ever does except by the teaching of the Spirit of God."
"That isn't it," said Matilda. "This person—does not know whether to believe the New Testament."
"I would not advise you, Matilda, to hold arguments with an infidel, young or old."
"O he is not an infidel, sir! He is a Jew."
"A Jew!" exclaimed Mr. Wharncliffe.
"Yes. And now, he wants to know whether Jesus is the Messiah."
"Is he in earnest, or talking for talk's sake?"
"Oh, in earnest, sir! very much in earnest."
There came a sudden veil over the clear blue eyes that looked down at Matilda; then their owner said,
"I must take you home with me."
It was not far, down a cross street. Mr. Wharncliffe left Matilda in the parlour a few moments, and returned with a book in his hand.
"This is the best I can do for you," he said. "Unless you could bring your friend to see me?"
"Oh no, sir! he would not. I don't think he has spoken to anybody but me."
"Nobody but you? Has he no one to speak to?"
"No, sir. Not about this."
"Well, my child, as I said, this is the best thing I can do for you."
"What is it, sir?"
"A first-rate reference Bible."
"I have got a Bible."
"I know that. But this has references, which you will find will explain a vast many things to you. I advise you not to talk much, because you might not always know just what to say. Do this. Let your friend bring any word or promise about the Messiah that he knows of in the Old Testament Scriptures; you find the place in this little Bible, and see what passages of the New Testament it refers to; see, here are the words of the Bible on one page and the references to each verse on the page opposite. You know what these abbreviations mean?"
"O yes, sir. O thank you, sir!" said Matilda, whose hands had now received the volume and whose eyes were eagerly scanning it. "I will take great care of it, sir."
"I hope you will; but not for my sake. I wish you to keep it, Matilda. It will be useful to you very often. And I shall want to hear how you get on."
He took back the book to put her name in it, while Matilda coloured high, and could hardly find words to speak her thanks. Her teacher smiled at her, escorted her to her own door again, and Matilda went in a happy child.
She was eager now for another chance to talk with David, and she fancied he wished for it too; but demands of school on the one hand, and Norton and Mrs. Laval on the other, for days made it impossible. For Matilda well understood that the matter was not to be openly spoken of, and the opportunity must be private when it came. She studied her new little Bible meanwhile with great assiduity, hoping to prepare herself for David's questions; however, she soon found she could not do that. She could only get familiar with the arrangements of her book; what David might ask or might say, it was impossible to guess.
Meantime Judy's disagreeable attentions continued.
"Why do you not eat your soup, Matilda?" Mrs. Lloyd asked one day. It was Sunday of course; the day when the young folks dined with the old ones.
"It is very hot, grandmamma."
"Hot? mine isn't hot. It is not hot at all; not too hot."
"It is hot with pepper, I think."
"Pepper? There is not pepper enough in it."
Matilda thought that Mrs. Lloyd's palate and her own perhaps perceived pepper differently. But when the first course was served and Matilda had taken curry, of which she was very fond, this was again hot; so sharp, in fact, that she could not eat it.
"What's the matter?" said Mrs. Lloyd,—"pepper there too?"
"It is very hot, ma'am," said Matilda, while Judy burst out laughing.
"Curry always is hot, child," said the old lady. "Why do you take it, if you do not like it?"
"I like it very much, grandmamma; only to-day—"
"It is not any hotter than usual, to-day. You should know what you want before you take it. You can make your dinner of rice, then."
The rice was as hot as the rest of it, Matilda thought. She could not eat; and she was hungry, for she had had a good walk and a brisk lesson in Sunday school; but the fiery portion on her plate quite baffled her hunger. She was never helped to pudding or pie more than once; she went hungry to bed.
That did her no harm; but it happened again and again that, if not starved, she was at least disappointed of eating something she liked, or had something she did eat, spoiled by its seasoning. Very indulgent as Mrs. Lloyd was about things in general, respecting table manners and all the etiquette of graceful behaviour at meal times she was exceedingly particular. She did not allow the young people to make any ado about what they eat. She gave them liberty enough of choice, but once the choice made, it was made; and mistakes were at the person's own risk. So when Matilda's salad was very spicy with cinnamon, or her ice cream excessively and unaccountably salt, or her oysters seemed to have been under a heavy shower of red pepper, there was no resource but to be quiet; unless she would have made a scene; as it was, she got credit for being fanciful and very dainty.