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   Chapter 4 MISS ROSE.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 18553

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Do you think you could find your way to the vicarage?"

Huldah had given Mrs. Perry her breakfast, and taken her own, and now had gone up again to remove the cup and plate, and ask what more she could do. She was longing to make herself useful, that she might show how grateful she was for all that had been done for her.

"Yes, I'm sure I could," she answered, readily.

"Miss Rose said she'd come to me any time I wanted her, and I feel I want her now, but I don't know how to let her know, unless you will go for me."

"I'll go," said Huldah, eagerly. "I'd like to." Then, with sudden recollection of her uncle and aunt, her heart sank. "I-I don't suppose I'd meet uncle that way, but-but there'd be the chance of that, any way I went," she added, trying to be brave and sensible.

Mrs. Perry looked anxious too. "I don't s'pose he could have got so far by this time, even if he came this way. You see, he'd have to keep to the road with the van, and you cut across country."

"Oh, it's sure to be all right," said Huldah, more bravely, determined not to be afraid. "I won't take Dick, though, if you'll keep him, ma'am. If I did see them coming, I could hide behind a hedge or somewhere, but Dick, he's racing everywhere, and I'd never be able to hide him too."

"Would they recognise him-so far from where they lost him?"

"Oh yes, ma'am, and he'd know them and Charlie, and he'd be sure to run up to speak to Charlie."

"Very well; you leave Dick here with me. I'll be glad to have him for company while you're gone; you'd better start before the day gets any hotter. Tell Miss Rose, that if she can spare the time, and it isn't very inconvenient I'd be very much obliged if she could come to see me to-day. You'll remember, won't you?"

"Yes, ma'am, I'll tell her you'm bad in bed."

"I wish," began Mrs. Perry, then hesitated, her eyes glancing over the shabby little maiden standing by her bedside. "I wish you weren't quite so-I wish you were a little tidier."

Huldah flushed under her glance. "My face and hands is clean," she said, shyly, "and I'll put the sweeping-brush over my hair-"

Mrs. Perry smiled, in spite of herself. "No, don't do that, child; take and use that one over there by the looking-glass; but 'twas your frock I was thinking about, and your apron is too ragged and dirty to see a lady in. I don't suppose you could wear one of mine-it'd be too long, wouldn't it?"

"I'm 'fraid it would, ma'am, but I'll try, if you like."

"There's one there on the chair by the door; hold it up against you, and let me see how it looks."

Huldah took the apron shyly, and held it round her waist. It hung far below her frock, and reached the top of her foot, but it hid her shabby old frock, and certainly gave her a cleaner look.

"P'raps if I tied it round under my arms it would look better," she suggested. She was very anxious to be a credit to her new friend, and she was even more anxious not to shock Miss Rose, at first sight, by her disreputable appearance.

"Yes, that will do," agreed Mrs. Perry, approvingly, and Huldah, quite unconscious of the funny figure she cut, started off in high spirits.

"Go to the top of the lane till you reach the high road, then turn to your right, and keep straight on till you come to the church and the vicarage. Go to the back door and knock gently, and ask to see Miss Rose. Do you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am. Can I do anything more for you before I go?"

"No, thank you. Keep in the shade as much as you can; it is going to be dreadfully hot again, I b'lieve."

In the lane, in spite of the shade, the heat was already stifling, the high hedges seemed to shut it in, and to keep out the air. Huldah, hurrying along over the rough ground, felt her face growing scarlet, and her breath coming quick. She was almost glad to get out on the high road, for though the glare of the sun was blinding, and there was no shade, it was less stifling there; but it was not the discomfort that she minded so much, her great desire was to look her best when she had to face Miss Rose. So she walked on the grass by the road-side, to keep her from getting dusty, and every now and then her hands went up to her cheeks, to feel if they were very, very hot; and indeed, between nervousness, and the heat, her cheeks were very, very scarlet by the time she reached the vicarage, and had found the back door.

Obedient to her orders, she knocked gently, so gently that for a time no one heard her, and she was about to knock for the third time, when a lady came round from the front of the house and caught sight of her.

She was a young lady, tall and thin and pretty, with such shining golden hair that it made Huldah wink to look at it gleaming in the sunshine.

"Can't you make anyone hear? I expect cook is busy; you must knock more loudly." She smiled kindly as she spoke, and her eyes were so gentle and pretty that Huldah scarcely heard what she was saying, for looking at them. "It must be Miss Rose herself," she thought to herself.

"Please, ma'am, I-I wanted to see Miss Rose," she stammered out at last. "Please, ma'am, are you-"

"I am Miss Rose Carew, yes. How did you know my name? You don't live anywhere hereabouts, do you?"

"No, miss." Huldah was almost glad her cheeks were so hot already, for she felt herself blushing at this question. "No, ma'am, I-I don't live anywhere. I'm come from Mrs. Perry, in Woodend Lane. She's ill in bed, and if it wouldn't be putting you out very much, please would you come and see her, miss? She'd be very much obliged, I was to say."

Miss Carew's quick sympathy was aroused at once.

"Mrs. Perry ill. Oh, I am so sorry! What has caused it, I wonder?

I hope she hasn't been out in the hot sun. I warned her not to."

"No, miss; 'twas last night that upset her, I think. Some fellows came and tried to steal her fowls, and she was reg'larly frightened she was, and I reckon she caught cold standing at the door in her nightdress."

"Some men came stealing her fowls! Oh, how wicked!" Miss Rose's cheeks flushed with indignation, and her soft eyes sparkled with anger. "Did they take them all?"

"No, miss, they didn't get any. Dick frightened the thieves off, just as they were going to open the door, and he bit their legs too. I'll be bound they're lame enough to-day!" and Huldah chuckled aloud at the thought, forgetting her shyness, and everything else but the thieves.

Miss Carew gazed at her, frankly puzzled. Who was Dick? and who was this funny little maid with the brown skin, brown hair, golden brown eyes, the shabby brown frock, and battered old hat?

"Are you a young relative of Mrs. Perry?" she asked, gently.

Huldah blushed again, and the laughter died out of her eyes.

"No, miss; I aint nobody's relative, I haven't got nobody but Dick."

"Is Dick your brother?"

"No, miss, he's only a dog; but he's ever such a good dog," eagerly.

"He's so clever, there's nothing he can't do. He's at home with Mrs.

Perry now, to keep her company while I'm gone, 'cause she's nervous

after last night."

"I see," said Miss Carew, thoughtfully. "I am very glad she has Dick to take care of her. Tell her I will come to see her this morning, will you? and wait a moment, I must give you something for Dick, as a reward for his care last night."

Miss Rose opened the door near which they had been standing, and disclosed a large wide, slate-paved passage, with large, cool-looking slate slabs on each side. After the glare and heat outside, the slates looked cool and restful to the eye. At the other end of the passage a door stood open, and through it Huldah could see a big bright kitchen, with a snowy table standing in the middle of the blue slate floor, and a window beyond, festooned with green creepers and roses.

"Dinah, I want something nice for a brave dog," said Miss Rose.

"Have you got a bone with something on it?"

Dinah produced a leg of mutton bone and some cold pudding. Huldah's eyes gleamed, as she thought of Dick's delight. Two bones in two days! He had never before known such a wonderful time. Miss Rose added two large dog biscuits. "Those will come in for his supper," she said.

Huldah took the parcel with a joy she did not attempt to conceal.

In her pleasure she lost her shyness. "Oh, miss!" she exclaimed,

"I wish you could be there to see Dick when he knows the bone is for

him!"

"I wish I could, but don't keep him waiting, poor doggie!"

It was not until she put out her hand to take the parcel for Dick that Huldah remembered the basket which she had brought with her to sell, and which she had been holding all this time. Now, though, when she did remember it, she could not bring herself to offer it for sale. Indeed, she longed to give it to pretty, kind Miss Rose.

Miss Rose, though, settled the matter for her. "What a sweetly pretty basket!" she exclaimed. She had noticed it in Huldah's hands, and been attracted by its prettiness. "It is too dainty to put that clumsy parcel into. Isn't it a new one?"

"Yes, miss; I-I made it," stammered Huldah, shyly.

"Did you really? What a clever little girl! Do you make them to sell?" She had begun to understand the situation.

"Yes, miss; but I-I-"

"W

ill you make one for me? I should very much like to have one; I am always needing baskets. What do they cost?"

"This size is-eighteenpence," said Huldah, hesitatingly. It suddenly seemed to her that it was a great deal of money to ask for it. "You can have this one if you like, miss. It is new; I-I brought it out to-to sell, if I could. I do want to get some money to give to Mrs. Perry-she's been so good to Dick and me, and-and I hadn't got anything to give her." Then, mistaking the cause of Miss Carew's thoughtful silence, she added, nervously, "But perhaps you'd rather have a new one made on purpose for you, miss. This one is quite clean, but-"

"Yes, yes, I'd like to have this one; I'd rather have this one, child. I was only thinking." Then, as she put the money for it into Huldah's hand, she asked gently, "Will you tell me your story, dear, presently, when I come to see Mrs. Perry? I should so like to know it. Then I shall be better able to understand, and perhaps I could help, or do something. I must not keep you now, or Mrs. Perry may begin to worry about you."

"Yes, miss; I think I ought to go back now, and-and thank you, miss, very much." Huldah was so excited she scarcely knew how to get her words out. A great sense of relief and happiness filled her heart. If Miss Rose would help her, she felt sure she would be safe and happy; and Dick too.

She almost danced back over the sunny road, in spite of the scorching sun. Her heart was lighter, she had eighteenpence in her hand to give to Mrs. Perry, and she had a feast for Dick. Life seemed beautiful, and happy, and hopeful. Could it have been only yesterday morning that she was in that dreadful caravan, bruised, hungry, miserable, and desperate to escape? It seemed impossible!

Suddenly, around the bend of the road ahead of her, appeared the head and shoulders of a white horse,-and instantly all her world changed. Her heart almost stood still with fright; then, with a low cry of despair, she scrambled over the hedge and into a field on the other side of it. "If I'd had Dick, I couldn't have done it!" she panted, as she scuttled along under the hedge, bending low, almost like an animal. At the corner of the field she paused. "If I can get over this hedge, I shall be in the lane," she thought; but the sound of wheels made her crouch low again; the horse was just passing. Fascinated, yet terrified, Huldah peeped through the hedge, and saw- a quiet old farm-horse drawing a hay-cart, and the driver sound asleep on the shafts! Oh, how her heart thrilled with relief at the sight! If she had known what prayer was, she would have offered up a thanksgiving then. As it was, she scrambled out over the hedge and into the lane in a somewhat sobered mood. The thought of what might have been, made her heart beat fast and her limbs tremble, and her new life seemed more than ever beautiful.

Miss Carew meanwhile had stood watching Huldah flitting like a little dark shadow along the road. "What an odd little brown thing she is!" she thought to herself, half-amused, half-sad. "I ain't nobody's relative, I haven't got nobody but Dick! She seemed so cheerful about it, too, it makes one feel that she did not mind the want. I wonder-but I must go and hear more about the strange pair who seem to have dropped out of the clouds to act as good fairies to poor Martha Perry."

When, about an hour later, Miss Carew reached the little cottage in Woodend Lane, she found Huldah washing the floor of the little kitchen, Dick lying in the garden gnawing his bone, and Martha Perry lying in bed with eighteenpence on the table beside her, and a bunch of flowers in a jug. Huldah had taken off Mrs. Perry's apron, for that was far too clean and precious to be worn for such work, whereas her old dress could not possibly be made shabbier.

When she saw Miss Carew standing on the doorstep, she looked up with a bright smile of welcome. "Please to walk in, miss," she said, shyly. She had hoped to have had the kitchen washed and made quite neat before the visitor arrived, but nothing could lessen her pleasure at seeing Miss Rose.

Without her white apron she looked browner than ever, and Miss Rose felt as she looked at her a great desire to dress her in pretty, clean, dainty things, a blue, or pink, or green cotton frock, with big white apron and white collar. She said nothing, though, but, stepping delicately over the clean floor, made her way up the stairs alone to visit the invalid.

Huldah had washed the kitchen and the tiled path to the gate, and shaken the mats, and dusted the chairs and mantelpiece, and was sitting down to rest her hot and weary little body, before Miss Rose came down again. When she heard the footsteps on the stairs she started up at once.

"Huldah, you are a veritable little brownie," said Miss Rose, "not only in appearance, but in everything."

Huldah smiled, but looked puzzled; then she put her hands up to her cheeks. "My hands is brown," she laughed, "but my face feels like fire."

"You should not work so hard while the heat is so great. In spite of your red cheeks, you are a real brownie. Do you know what a brownie is?"

"No, miss," said Huldah, with a shake of her head. "I haven't ever been anything but a gipsy-a basket-seller, I mean."

"Well, basket-sellers can be brownies too, especially when they come in to help and protect poor, helpless old people, and sell their baskets to give the money to those who need it. Have you ever heard of fairies, Huldah?"

Huldah shook her head again, with a puzzled look in her eyes.

"No, miss."

"Well, fairies and piskies and brownies were supposed to be very little people who lived underground, or in flowers and shells, or in rocks and mines, by day, and only came out at night. Some of them only danced and played and enjoyed themselves, but others, the piskies and brownies, loved to come at night and help the sad and ill and poor, and those who were good and kind. They would come when folks were asleep, and tidy their kitchen for them, or chop their wood, and spin their flax. Sometimes, for the very poor, they would bake a batch of bread or cakes, and have all ready for them; and when the poor people came down in the morning, cold and weak and hungry, wondering how they would manage to get any food to eat, they would find the kitchen clean, wood and coal to make a fire, and food in the larder. Sometimes, too, there would be a piece of money at the bottom of a cup. Can't you imagine how people would bless and love those dear little industrious brownies?"

"Oh yes!" gasped Huldah, "and how I'd love to be able to do things like that!"

"I think you are one, dear, only you don't vanish by day, and you don't work secretly."

Huldah flushed with joy. Never in her sad, hard life had she felt so happy.

"I hope, though, that you are not like the little people in one respect,-they were so very easily offended. Such a little thing would rouse their anger, and when they were angry they did not mind hurting those who had offended them, or even injuring them very greatly."

"Oh!" cried Huldah, looking disappointed.

"Now, little brownie, before I go I want you to trust me, and to be quite frank and open, and not be afraid, for I want to be your friend. I want you to tell me all about yourself and your past life, and where you came from, and why you and Dick are quite alone in the world. Will you? I want to help you, and do what is best for both of you, but until I know all I can do nothing."

"You won't send us back to Uncle Tom, will you miss?" she cried, her face paling, her eyes wide with fear. "I'll tell you everything,- I-I want to, but if you send us back to Uncle Tom, he'll pretty nigh beat us to death, me and Dick, I know he will!" And at the mere thought of it she broke down and sobbed so violently that it was long before Miss Rose could soothe her, or calm the trembling of the half-starved, bruised little body.

She herself was shocked by the terror with which the mere thought of returning to her uncle and aunt filled the child; and her heart ached as she realised what she must have endured to bring her to such a state, for it was plain to see that Huldah was naturally a spirited, brave little creature.

In her own mind, Miss Carew determined then and there that such persons were not fit guardians for any child, and never with her consent should Huldah be sent back to be again at their mercy. Her life would be one of greater suffering even than before. She shuddered at the thought of the blows and abuse and hunger which would be her lot. The hunger for love and kindness, too, which, now she had had a glimpse of both, would be even greater than her hunger for food, and even less likely to be gratified. No-oh no!-Huldah should never face such a fate, as long as she could help her. She would seek the protection of the law first, she decided; but, in the meantime, until the law was necessary, she herself would do her best to make her life happy and useful and good. So much was due to the child.

Everyone whose life was happy, and full of love and peace and comfort, owed some share of her blessings to those who had none,-and surely here was one to whom a large share was owing.

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