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   Chapter 12 A LONE LAMB

A Peep Behind the Scenes By Mrs. O. F. Walton Characters: 14785

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It was Sunday evening when the caravan reached the town where the fair was to be held. The travellers passed numbers of people in their Sunday clothes, and saw many churches and chapels open for evening service as they drove through the town. The gaily painted caravan looked strangely out of keeping with everything around it on that holy day.

Augustus met them as they came upon the common which was apportioned to the show-people. It was a large waste piece of ground on a cliff overlooking the sea; for this great fair was held at a large watering-place on the sea-coast. The piece of ground which Augustus had selected was close to the beach, so that Rosalie could hear the rolling and dashing of the waves on the rocks below as she sat beside her mother that night. In the morning, as her mother was sleeping quietly, she stole out on the shore and wandered about amongst the rocks before the rest of the show-people were awake.

A long ridge of rocks stretched out into the sea, and Rosalie walked along this, and watched the restless waves, as they dashed against it and broke into thick white foam. In some parts the rocky way was covered with small limpets, whose shells crackled under Rosalie's feet; then came some deep pools filled with green and red seaweed, in which Rosalie discovered pink sea-anemones and restless little crabs. She examined one or two of these, but her heart was too sad and weary to be interested by them long, so she wandered on until she reached the extremity of the ridge of rocks. Here she sat for some time, gazing at the breakers, and watching the sunshine spreading over the silvery grey waters.

Several fishing-boats were already entering the port, laden with the spoils of the previous night, and Rosalie watched them coming in one by one and running quickly ashore. One of them passed close by the spot where the child was sitting. An old man and two boys were in it, and they were singing as they went by, in clear, ringing voices. Rosalie could hear the words of the song well, as she sat on the ridge of rocks-

'Last night, my lads, we toiled away,

Oh! so drearily, drearily;

But we weighed our anchor at break of day,

Oh! so cheerily, cheerily;

So keep up heart and courage, friends!

For home is just in sight;

And who will heed, when safely there,

The perils of the night?

Just so we toil through earth's dark night,

Oh! so wearily, wearily;

Yet we trust to sail at dawn of light,

Oh! so cheerily, cheerily;

So keep up heart and courage, friends!

For home is just in sight;

And who will heed, when safely there,

The perils of the night?'

There was something in the wild tune, and something in the homely words, which soothed Rosalie's heart. As she walked back to the caravan, she kept saying to herself-

'So keep up heart and courage, friends!

For home is just in sight.'

'Just in sight; that must be for my mammie,' thought the child, 'and not for me; she is getting very near home!'

Her mother was awake when Rosalie opened the caravan door, but she seemed very weak and tired, and all that long day scarcely spoke. The child sat beside her, and tried to tempt her to eat, but she hardly opened her eyes, and would take nothing but a little water.

In the afternoon the noise of the fair began, the rattling of the shooting galleries, the bells of the three large whirligigs, and two noisy bands playing different tunes, and making a strange, discordant sound, an odd mixture of the 'Mabel Waltz,' and 'Poor Mary Ann.' Then, as the crowds in the fair became denser, the shouts and noise increased on all sides, and the sick woman moaned to herself from time to time.

Augustus was far too busy preparing for the evening's entertainment to spend much time in the caravan. He did not know or he would not see, that a change was passing over his wife's face, that she was even then standing on the margin of the river of death. And thus, about half an hour before the theatre opened, he called to Rosalie to dress herself for the play, and would listen to none of her entreaties to stay with her dying mother.

Her dying mother! Yes, Rosalie knew that it had come to that now. Child as she was, she could tell that there was something in her mother's face which had never been there before. Her eyes were opened to the truth at last, and she felt that death was not very far away.

How could she leave her? Her mother's hand was holding hers so tightly, her mother's eyes, whenever they were opened, were fixed on her so lovingly. How could she leave her mother, even for an hour, when the hours which she might still have with her were becoming so few?

Yet Rosalie dared not stay. Was not this the great fair her father had been counting on all the year, and from which he hoped to reap the greatest profit? And had he not told her that very night, that if she broke down in her part in this town, he would never forgive her as long as he lived?

No, there was no help for it; Rosalie must go. But not until the last moment-not until the very last moment-would she leave her dying mother. She dressed very quickly, and sat down in her little white dress beside her mother's bed. Once more she held her mother's cold hand, and gently stroked her pale face.

'Little Rosalie,' said her mother, 'my darling, are you going?-must you leave me?'

'Oh, mammie, mammie! it is so hard! so very, very hard!'

'Don't cry, my darling!-my little lamb, don't cry! It's all right. Lift me up a little, Rosalie.'

The child altered her mother's pillows very gently, and then the sick woman whispered-

'I'm close to the deep waters; I can hear the sound of them now. It's the river of death, Rosalie, and I've got to cross it, but I'm not afraid: the Good Shepherd has laid me on His shoulder, and, as I'm so very weak, I think He'll carry me through.'

This was said with great difficulty, and, when she had done speaking, the dying woman's head fell back on the pillow.

Rosalie could not speak; she could only kiss her mother's hand, and cry quietly as she watched. And then came her father's call to her to make haste and come into the theatre; and she had to disengage herself from her mother's hand, and, giving one last long look, to shut the door and leave her-leave her alone.

What happened in the theatre that night Rosalie never exactly knew; it all seemed as a horrible dream to her. She said the words and acted her part, but she saw not the stage nor the spectators; her eyes all the time were on her mother's face, her hand all the time felt her mother's dying grasp. And yet, as she danced and sang, there were many there who thought her happy, many who envied her, and who would have gladly changed places with her. Oh, if they had only known! if they had only had the faintest idea of the anguish of that little heart, of the keen, cruel, cutting sorrow with which it was filled!

Troubles some of these people undoubtedly had, cares and vexations and worries not a few, yet none of them had known anything of the heart-misery of that little actress; not one of them had ever been torn from the side of a dying mother, and been compelled to laugh and sing when their very hearts were bleeding. From such soul-rending agony they had been saved and shielded; and yet they would have chosen the very lot which would have exposed them to i

t.

Oh, how very little they knew of what was going on behind the scenes! how little they guessed what a tumult of passionate sorrow was in little Rosalie's heart! So wild was her grief, that she hardly knew what she was doing, and, after the play was over, she could not have told how she managed to get through it. Instead of going out on the platform, she darted swiftly out of the theatre and into her mother's caravan, almost knocking over several people who were passing by, and who stared at her in astonishment.

Her mother was not dead; oh, how glad Rosalie was for that! but she did not seem to hear her speak, and her breathing was very painful. Rosalie bent over her and cave her one long, long kiss, and then hurried back into the theatre just as her father had missed her.

And when she next came into the caravan, all was still; her mother seemed to be sleeping more quietly, the painful breathing had ceased, and the child hoped she was easier. She certainly seemed more restful, and her hands were still warm, so she could not be dead, little Rosalie reasoned to herself.

Poor child, she did not know that even then she had no mother.

Weary and aching in every limb, little Rosalie fell asleep on the chair by her mother's side; and when she awoke with a shiver in the dead of night, and once more felt her mother's hand, it was as cold as ice. And Rosalie knew then that she was dead.

Trembling in every limb, and almost too startled to realise her sorrow, she unfastened the caravan door, and crept out into the darkness to tell her father. But he and the men were sleeping soundly on the floor of the little theatre, and, though Rosalie hammered against the gilded boards in front, she could make no one hear her. Again and again she knocked, but no answer came from within; for the theatre people were tired with their night's work, and could not hear the tiny little hands on the outside of the show. So the poor child had to return to the desolate caravan.

With one bitter cry of anguish, one long, passionate wail of grief, she threw herself on her mother's bed. Her sorrow could not disturb that mother now; she was gone to that land which is very far off, where even the sound of weeping is never heard. The Good Shepherd had carried her safely over the river, and, as Rosalie wept in the dark caravan. He was even then welcoming her mother to the home above; He was even then saying, in tones of joy, yet more glad than before, 'Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost.'

But Rosalie-poor little desolate, motherless Rosalie!-had the Good Shepherd quite forgotten her? Was she left in her sorrow alone and forsaken? Was there no comfort for the orphaned lamb in her bitter distress? Did He pass her by untended and unblessed? Or did He not rather draw doubly near in that night of darkness? Did He not care for the lonely lamb? Did He not whisper words of sweetest comfort and love to the weary, sorrowful Rosalie?

If not, what was it that made her feel, as she lay on her mother's bed, that she was not altogether deserted, that there was One who loved her still? What was it that gave her that strange, happy feeling that she was lying in the Good Shepherd's arms, and that He was folding her to His bosom even more tenderly than her mother had done? What was it, but the Good Shepherd fulfilling those gracious loving words of His-

'He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom'?

It was the next morning. The sun had risen some time, and the show-people were beginning to stir; the fishing-boats were once more coming home, and the breakers were rolling on the shore. Augustus Joyce awoke with a strange feeling of uneasiness, for which he could not account. Nothing had gone wrong the night before; Rosalie had made no mistake in her part, and his profits had been larger than usual. And yet Augustus Joyce was not happy. He had had a dream the night before; perhaps that was the reason. He had dreamt of his wife; and it was not often that he dreamt of her now. He had dreamt of her, not as she was then, thin and worn and wasted, but as she had been on his wedding-day, when she had been his bride, and he had promised to take her 'for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish her, till death should them part.'

Somehow or other, when Augustus woke, those words were ringing in his ears. What had he been to her in poverty? How had he treated her in sickness? Had he soothed her and cared for her, and done all he could to make their burden press lightly on her? Had he loved her and cherished her? Loved her?-What did those cruel words, those bitter taunts, those unsympathising speeches, tell of the love of Augustus Joyce for his wife? Cherished her?

What kind of cherishing had he bestowed upon her during her illness? What kind of cherishing had he shown her when he had compelled her, almost fainting, to take her part in the play?

'Till death us do part.' That time was very near now,-Augustus Joyce knew that. For once the voice of conscience was heard by him. He could not forget the lovely face he had seen in his dream, nor the sad, reproachful gaze of those beautiful dark eyes. He jumped from his bed and dressed hastily. He would give his wife some kind words, at least that morning. Conscience should not taunt him with his bitter neglect again.

He hurried to the other caravan, opened the door, and entered. What was the scene which met his gaze?

The sunbeams were streaming in through the small window, and falling on the bed. And there lay his wife, so pale, so ghastly, so still, that Augustus Joyce drew back in horror. And there, with her arms round her mother's neck, and the wreath of roses fallen from her hair on her mother's pillow, lay little Rosalie, fast asleep, with the traces of tears still on her cheeks. Intense sleep and weariness had taken possession of her, and she had fallen asleep on her mother's bed, in her white dress, just as she had been acting at the play.

Augustus drew nearer to his wife, and sat down beside her. Yes, she was dead; there was no doubt of that. The kind words could never be spoken, she would never hear him again, he could never show his love to her now,-never cherish her more. 'Till death us do part.' It had parted them now, parted them for ever. It was too late for Augustus Joyce to make any amends; too late for him to do anything to appease his conscience.

When Rosalie awoke, she found herself being lifted from the bed by her father, and carried into the other caravan. There he laid her on his own bed and went out, shutting the door behind him.

And the next few days seemed like one long dreary night to Rosalie. Of the inquest and the preparations for the funeral she knew nothing. She seemed like one in a dream. The fair went on all around her, and the noise and racket made her more and more miserable. What she liked best was to hear the dull roaring of the sea, after the naphtha lights were out and all in the fair was still.

For, somehow, with the roaring of the waves the fishermen's song came back to her-

'So keep up heart and courage, friends!

For home is just in sight;

And who will heed, when safely there,

The perils of the night?'

And, somehow-Rosalie hardly knew why-that song comforted and soothed her.

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