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A Peep Behind the Scenes By Mrs. O. F. Walton Characters: 16984

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The next morning Rosalie was waked by a rap at the caravan door. She crept out of bed, and, putting her dress over her shoulders, peeped out between the muslin curtains.

'It's Toby, mammie,' she said; 'I'll see what he wants.'

She opened the door a crack, and Toby put his mouth to it, and whispered-

'Miss Rosie, we're going to start in about half an hour. Master has just sent me for the horses; we've been up all night packing; three of the waggons is loaded, and they've only some of the scenery to roll up, and then we shall start.'

'Where are we going, Toby?' asked the child.

'It's a town a long way off,' said Toby; 'we've never been there before, master says, and it will take us nearly a week to get there. But I must be off, Miss Rosie, or master will be coming.'

'Aren't you tired, Toby?' said the child kindly.

Toby shrugged his shoulders, and said, with a broad grin-

'I wonder if any one in this concern is ever anything else but tired!'

Then he walked away into the town for the horses, which had been put up in the stables of an inn, and Rosalie returned to her mother. There were several things to be done before they could start; the crockery had all to be taken from the shelf and stowed away in a safe place, lest the jolting over the rough and uneven field should throw it down. Besides this, Rosalie had to dress herself and get her mother's breakfast ready, that she might eat it in peace before the shaking of the caravan commenced.

When all was ready, Rosalie stood at the window and looked out. The fair looked very different from what it had done the night before. Most of the show-people had been up all night, taking their shows to pieces, and packing everything up. Though it was not yet nine o'clock, many of them had already started, and the field was half empty. It was a dreary scene of desolation; all the little grass it had once possessed, which had given it a right to the name of field, had entirely disappeared, and the bare, uneven ground was thickly strewn with dirty pieces of paper, broken boxes, and old rags, which had been left behind by the show-people; besides a quantity of orange-peel and cocoa-nut and oyster shells, which had been thrown into the mud the night before. Very dirty and untidy and forlorn it looked, as Rosalie gazed at it from the door of the caravan. Then a waggon jolted past, laden with the largest of the numerous whirligigs, the wooden horses and elephants peeping out from the waterproof covering which had been thrown over them. Then a large swing passed by, then the show of the giant and dwarf; these were followed by a pea-boiling establishment and the marionettes. And, a few minutes afterwards, the show of the blue horse and the performing seal set out on its way to the next feast, accompanied by the shows of the fat boy and of the lady without arms, who performed wonders with her toes in the ways of tea-making and other household business, and whose very infirmities and deformities were thus made into gain, and exposed to the gaze of curious crowds by her own relations.

All these rattled past, and Rosalie watched them out of sight. Then Toby returned with the horses; they were yoked to the waggons and to the caravans, and the little cavalcade set forth. The jolting over the rough ground was very great, and much tried the poor sick woman, who was shaken from side to side of her wretched bed. Then outside the field they had to wait a long time, for the road was completely filled by the numerous caravans of the wild-beast show, and no one could pass until they were gone.

The elephants were standing close to the pavement, now and again twisting their long trunks into the trees of the small gardens in front of the neighbouring houses; and they would undoubtedly have broken the branches to atoms had not their keeper driven them off with his whip. A crowd of children was gathered round them, feeding them with bread and biscuit, and enjoying the delay of the show.

But Augustus became very impatient, for he had a long journey before him; so, after pacing up and down and chafing against the stoppage for some time, he went up to the manager of the wild-beast show, and addressed him in such violent and passionate language, that a policeman was obliged to interfere, and desired him to keep the peace.

At length the huge yellow caravans, each drawn by six strong cart-horses, moved slowly on, led by a procession of elephants and camels, and followed by a large crowd of children, who accompanied them to the outskirts of the town. Here, by turning down a by-street, the theatre party was able to pass them, and thus get the start of them on their journey.

Rosalie was glad to leave the town, and feel the fresh country air blowing upon her face. It was so very refreshing after the close, stagnant air of the fair. She opened the upper part of the door, and stood looking out, watching Toby, who was driving, and talking to him from time to time of the objects which they passed by the way; it was a new road to Rosalie and to her mother.

At length, about twelve o'clock, they came to a little village, where they halted for a short time, that the horses might rest before going farther. The country children were just leaving the village school, and they gathered round the caravans with open eyes and mouths, staring curiously at the smoke coming from the small chimneys, and at Rosalie, who was peeping out from between the muslin curtains. But, after satisfying their curiosity, they moved away in little groups to their various homes, that they might be in time to get their dinner done before afternoon school.

Then the village street was quite quiet, and Rosalie stood at the door, watching the birds hopping from tree to tree, and the bees gathering honey from the flowers in the gardens. Her mother was better to-day, and was dressing herself slowly, for she thought that a breath of country air might revive and strengthen her.

Augustus, Toby, and the other men of the company had gone into the small inn for refreshment, and Toby was sent back to the caravan with large slices of bread and cheese for Rosalie and her mother. The child ate of it eagerly-the fresh air had given her an appetite-but the poor woman could not touch it. As soon as she was dressed, she crept, with Rosalie's help, to the door of the caravan, and sat on the top step, leaning against one of the boxes, which the child dragged from its place to make a support for her.

The caravan was drawn up by the side of a small cottage with a thatched roof. There was a little garden in front of it, filled with sweet flowers, large cabbage-roses, southernwood, rosemary, sweetbriar, and lavender. As the wind blew softly over them, it wafted their sweet fragrance to the sick woman sitting on the caravan steps. The quiet stillness of the country was very refreshing and soothing to her, after the turmoil and din of the last week. No sound was to be heard but the singing of the larks overhead, the humming of the bees, and the gentle rustling of the breeze amongst the branches.

Then the cottage door opened, and a little child, about three years old, ran out with a ball in his hand, which he rolled down the path leading to the garden gate. A minute afterwards a young woman, in a clean cotton gown and white apron, brought her work outside, and, sitting on the seat near the cottage door, watched her child at play with a mother's love and tenderness. She was knitting a little red sock for one of those tiny feet to wear. Click! click! click! went her knitting-needles; but she kept her eyes on the child, ready to run to him at the first alarm, to pick him up if he should fall, or to soothe him if he should be in trouble. Now and then she glanced at the caravan standing at her garden gate, and gave a look of compassion at the poor thin woman, whose cough from time to time was so distressing. Then, as was her custom, she began to sing as she worked; she had a clear, sweet voice, and the sick woman and her child listened.

The words of her song were these:

'Jesus, I Thy face am seeking,

Early will I turn to Thee;

Words of love Thy voice is speaking:

"Come, come to Me.

'"Come to Me when life is dawning,

I thy dearest Friend would be;

In the sunshine of the morning,

Come, come to Me.

'"Come to Me-oh, do believe Me!

I have shed My blood for thee;

I am waiting to receive thee,

Come, come to Me."


Lord, I come without delaying,

To Thine arms at once I flee,

Lest no more I hear Thee saying,

"Come, come to Me."'

When she had finished singing, all was quite still again; there was hardly a sound except the pattering of the little feet on the garden path. But presently the child began to cry, and the careful mother flew to his side to discover what had pained him. It was only the loss of his ball, which he had thrown too high, and which had gone over the hedge, and seemed to him lost for ever. Only his ball! And yet that ball was as much to that tiny mind as our most precious treasures are to us.

The mother knew this, so she calmed the child's fears, and ran immediately to recover his lost plaything.

But Rosalie was before her. She had seen the ball come over the hedge, and had heard the child's cry; and, when his mother appeared at the gate, she saw the child of the caravan returning from her chase after the ball, which had rolled some way down the hilly road. She brought it to the young mother, who thanked her for her kindness, and then gazed lovingly and pityingly into her face. She was a mother, and she thought of the happy life her child led, compared with that of this poor little wanderer. With this feeling in her heart, after restoring the ball to the once more contented child, she ran into the house, and returned with a mug of new milk, and a slice of bread, spread with fresh country butter, which she handed to Rosalie and begged her to eat.

'Thank you, ma'am,' said little Rosalie; 'but please may mammie have it? I've had some bread and cheese; but she is too ill to eat that, and this would do her such good.'

'Yes, to be sure,' said the kind-hearted countrywoman; 'give her that, child, and I'll fetch some more for you.'

And so it came to pass that Rosalie and her mother had quite a little picnic on the steps of the caravan; with the young woman standing by, and talking to them as they ate, and now and then looking over the hedge into the garden, that she might see if any trouble had come to her boy.

'I liked to hear you sing,' said Rosalie's mother.

'Did you?' said the young woman.' I often sing when I'm knitting; my little one likes to hear me, and he almost knows that hymn now. Often when he is at play I hear him singing, "Tome, tome, to Me," so prettily, the little dear!' she said, with tears in her eyes.

'I wish I knew it,' said Rosalie.

'I'll tell you what,' said the young woman, 'I'll give you a card with it on; our clergyman had it printed, and we've got two of them.'

She ran again into the house, and returned with a card, on which the hymn was printed in clear, distinct type. There were two holes pierced through the top of the card, and a piece of blue ribbon had been slipped through, and tied in a bow at the top. Rosalie seized it eagerly, and began reading it at once.

'We've got such a good clergyman here,' said the young woman; 'he has not been here more than a few months, and he has done so many nice things for us. Mrs. Leslie reads aloud in one of the cottages once a week; and we all take our work and go to listen to her, and she talks to us so beautiful out of the Bible; it always does me good to go.'

She stopped suddenly, as she saw Rosalie's mother's face. She had turned deadly pale, and was leaning back against the box with her eyes fixed upon her.

'What's the matter, ma'am?' said the kind-hearted little woman. 'I'm afraid you've turned faint; and how you do tremble! Let me help you in; you'd better lie on your bed, hadn't you?'

She gave her her arm, and she and Rosalie took her inside the caravan and laid her on her bed. But she was obliged to leave her in a minute or two, as her little boy was climbing on the gate, and she was afraid he would fall.

A few minutes afterwards a great noise was heard in the distance, and a number of the village children appeared, running in front of the wild-beast show, which was just passing through. The young woman took her little boy in her arms, and held him up, that he might see the elephants and camels, which were marching with stately dignity in front of the yellow vans.

When they had gone, Toby appeared with the horse, and said his master had told him he was to start, and he would follow presently with the rest of the waggons. The horse was soon put in the caravan, and they were just starting, when the young woman gathered a nosegay of the lovely flowers in her garden, and handed them to Rosalie, saying, 'Take them, and put them in water for your mother; the sight of them maybe will do her good. You'll learn the hymn, won't you? Good-bye, and God bless you!'

She watched them out of sight, standing at her cottage door with her child in her arms, whilst Rosalie leaned out of the window to nod to her and smile at her.

Then they turned a corner, and came into the main street of the village.

'Can you see the church, Rosalie?' asked her mother hurriedly.

'Yes, mammie dear,' said Rosalie; 'it's just at the end of this street.

Such a pretty church, with trees all round it!'

'Are there any houses near it?' asked her mother.

'Only one, mammie dear, a big house in a garden; but I can't see it very well, there are so many trees in front of it.'

'Ask Toby to put you down, Rosalie, and run and have a look at it as we pass.'

So Rosalie was lifted down from the caravan, and ran up to the vicarage gate, whilst her mother raised herself on her elbow to see as much as she could through the open window. But she could only see the spire of the church and the chimneys of the house, and she was too exhausted to get up.

Presently Rosalie overtook them, panting with her running. Toby never dared to wait for her, lest his master should find fault with him for stopping; but Rosalie often got down from the caravan, to gather wild flowers, or to drink at a wayside spring, and, as she was very fleet of foot, she was always able to overtake them.

'What was it like, Rosalie?' asked her mother, when she was seated on the box beside her bed.

'Oh, ever so pretty, mammie dear; such soft grass and such lovely roses, and a broad gravel walk all up to the door. And in the garden there was a lady; such a pretty, kind-looking lady! and she and her little girl were gathering some of the flowers.'

'Did they see you, Rosalie?'

'Yes; the little girl saw me, mammie, peeping through the gate, and she said, "Who is that little girl, mamma? I never saw her before." And then her mamma looked up and smiled at me; and she was just coming to speak to me when I turned frightened, and I saw the caravan had gone out of sight; so I ran away, and I've been running ever since to get up to you.'

The mother listened to her child's account with a pale and restless face.

Then she lay back on her pillow and sighed several times.

At last they heard a rumbling sound behind them, and Toby announced, 'It's master; he's soon overtaken us.'

'Rosalie,' said her mother anxiously, 'don't you ever tell your father about that house, or that I told you to go and look at it, or about what that young woman said. Mind you never say a word to him about it; promise me, Rosalie.'

'Why not, mammie dear?' asked Rosalie, with a very perplexed face.

'Never mind why, Rosalie,' said her mother fretfully; 'I don't wish it.'

'Very well, mammie dear,' said Rosalie.

'I'll tell you some time, Rosalie,' said her mother gently, a minute or two afterwards; 'not to-day, though; oh no! I can't tell it to-day.'

Rosalie wondered very much what her mother meant, and she sat watching her pale, sorrowful face as she lay on her bed with her eyes closed. What was she thinking of? What was it she had to tell her? For some time Rosalie sat quite still, musing on what her mother had said, and then she pinned the card on the wall just over her dear picture, and once more read the words of the hymn.

After this she arranged the flowers in a small glass, and put them on the box near her mother's bed. The sweet-briar and cabbage-roses and southernwood filled the caravan with their fragrance. Then Rosalie took up her usual position at the door, to watch Toby driving, and to see all that was to be seen by the way.

They passed through several other villages, and saw many lone farmhouses and solitary cottages. When night came, they drew up on the outskirts of a small market-town. Toby took the horses to an inn, and they rested there for the night.

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