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   Chapter 6 HULDAH GOES SHOPPING.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 12023

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Though she made light of it to Mrs. Perry, the fright she had received kept Huldah in a very nervous state for many a day to come. She lived always in a constant dread of some harm coming to poor Dick, and she was never really easy if he was out of her sight. By day, her eyes were here, there, and everywhere, fearful that somewhere those two dreaded figures might be lurking about, waiting to attack or steal her Dick; and at night she lay awake hour after hour, thinking she heard sounds in the house or the garden. Half-a-dozen times she would get out of her bed, shaking with nervousness, yet unable to lie still, and peer out, to see if they really were getting over the garden wall or not, and always she longed for the night to be over. She felt safer when she was up and about, with Dick under her eye.

Miss Carew grew quite troubled about her-about them both, in fact, for Huldah's nervousness, though she tried to keep it to herself, could scarcely be concealed from Mrs. Perry.

Something must be done to distract the child's mind, she felt,-but what? And then, as though to solve the difficulty for her, came an order for half a dozen of Huldah's pretty baskets.

No other cure she could have found would have been half so good. Huldah's spirits went up to a pitch of delight such as she had never known before. She was full of gratitude and of eagerness to begin, and if Miss Rose had not been able to drive her in to Belmouth that very day to buy the raffia, there was, as Miss Rose said, no knowing what might have happened.

Huldah liked the work, and she had done so little lately that the thought of going back to it was a pleasure in itself, but best of all was the thought of what she would do with the money when she got it. That thought kept her in one thrill of joy.

She was to have eighteenpence each for the baskets. Nine whole shillings! It seemed to Huldah a perfect fortune, and she would spend the whole of it on Mrs. Perry. She would get her in a store of coal, in readiness for the winter; then they would be able to have good fires, and not have to be counting the cost all the time.

That was the first decision. After a time, though, that seemed rather an uninteresting purchase. All her money would be gone at once, and almost before she had realised that she had got it. She next decided to get a large piece of bacon, two sacks of coal, and a sack of corn for the fowls; but this plan was changed again for others. Every day Huldah thought out some new and delightful purchases, and what she would have bought finally nobody knows, for Miss Rose and Mrs. Perry put an end to all her schemes, by insisting that the money was to be spent on herself. She was to buy a new winter coat for herself, they decided, and Huldah had to give in. She was bitterly disappointed at first; it had never entered her head to spend her money on anyone but Mrs. Perry, it was for her only that she had wanted it.

Autumn was well advanced now, the mornings and nights were cold, and the days not really hot, and Huldah soon began to realise that she did need a warm garment of some sort, for she had only her thin print frocks, and a little shoulder shawl that Mrs. Perry had given her.

So, as soon as she had got her nine shillings in her pocket, Miss Rose came with the pony-cart and drove her in to Belmouth to hunt through the shops in search of a coat or a cloak which would not cost more than nine shillings, and at the same time be neat and warm, and-at least, so Huldah hoped,-pretty.

Such a day as that was to Huldah! Such a day as had never come into her life before. First of all there was the drive, four whole miles with Miss Rose in her dear little pony-carriage, and actually wearing one of Miss Rose's old golf cloaks wrapped snugly round her. The sun shone and the birds sang, and the air was exhilarating with the first touch of frost; the trees glowed warmly in their autumn dress, and the hedges too.

Huldah was speechless with excitement, when, after leaving Rob, the pony, at a livery-stable, she followed Miss Carew into the big draper's shop where the purchase was to be made. She was half frightened too, the place was so large, and there were so many people there, who seemed to have nothing to do but stare about them. It was quite an ordeal to walk behind the shop-walker between the long lines of counters with so many people looking over them at her. She kept very close indeed to Miss Rose, and tried to believe that it was at Miss Rose they were staring, and not at herself.

Then at last they came to the jacket department, and before she knew what she was doing a very tall young woman was standing beside her with a bright scarlet coat in her hands, and actually holding it out for Huldah to try on.

"Oh, that will not do," interposed Miss Rose, sharply. She was sorry that Huldah should have seen it, it was so attractive, though unsuitable, and would probably make all the others seem dull and ugly. But Huldah knew too that it was quite unsuitable for her purpose. What she wanted was a serviceable garment for Sundays and week-days, wet weather and fine; she would have loved though to have it, and for years after, one of her ambitions was to have a bright red coat in the winter.

Miss Rose strolled away with the girl, after that, to say a word to her in private, and to try to help her pick out something suitable; and very soon they came back again with black coats, blue coats, dark green and grey coats, and one after the other Huldah tried them on, and one after the other they were thrown aside as useless. The shoulders came to her elbows nearly, and the cuffs beyond her finger-tips, while the collars refused to come anywhere near her neck! It was most disappointing.

"She is very narrow, and thin for her height," remarked the girl, apologetically, as one after the other the coats hung off Huldah's shoulders like loose sacks. "I wonder if you wouldn't find a cloak more satisfactory for her. Fit does not

matter so much with a cloak. Now this one is a very good one; it cost fifteen shillings at first, but it is reduced very much, because it is a little out of fashion, and slightly shop-worn," and she held up a warm brown cloak with big bone buttons, and, oh! joy of joys in Huldah's eyes, a hood lined with blue! "Hoods aren't being worn now," she went on; but Huldah heard no more.

"Not worn! Out of fashion!" All her life Huldah had longed for a cloak with a hood! In a rapture she felt the cloak being placed on her shoulders, and saw the girl button the big horn buttons, and in a tumult of shy delight she looked over herself, and then up at Miss Carew.

"That fits her very well," said the girl, in a tone of relief.

Miss Rose read Huldah's eager face, and almost nervously enquired the price. It would be such a blow if it should be beyond them.

"It is reduced to eight shillings, madam," said the girl, who was almost as anxious to sell as they were to buy. "It is good cloth, a real bargain."

"Then we must have it, mustn't we, brownie?" cried Miss Rose, promptly. "It may not be as warm as a coat, but it certainly fits her and suits her. Why, we have turned you into a brownie again, Huldah! Are you pleased with your purchase?"

"Oh yes, miss! I think it is lovely, I like it better than any!" gasped Huldah, excitedly. She could scarcely believe yet that she was not in a dream, or that it could really be she, Huldah Bate, to whom all this was happening.

The young attendant stooped to unbutton the cloak, to take it away and wrap it in a parcel, but Miss Carew stopped her. "I think she may as well wear it home," she said. "It is cold, and it will be the easiest way of carrying it."

"Yes, madam. I will give you the bill."

When the stranger's back was turned, Huldah found her tongue. "Oh, Miss Rose, isn't it lovely! It's so warm, I can feel it already, and-and oh, I can't believe it is mine!"

"I am glad you like it, dear. Now get out your purse, and pay the bill."

That was indeed a proud moment! From the depth of her pocket, and from beneath the wonderful cloak, Huldah produced a small, rather shabby purse, an old one of Miss Carew's, and from its pockets she produced all her worldly wealth. Her fingers trembled so, she could scarcely separate the coins, but at last it was all managed; and, still in a maze of delight, she found herself walking out of the shop behind Miss Carew, clutching her thin little purse, in which reposed one solitary shilling, and proudly wearing her own purchase.

To have walked out in it between that double fire of staring eyes, would have been an ordeal she could scarcely have endured, if it had not been that her thoughts were more occupied with her shilling than with herself, for with it she was going to buy something to take home to Mrs. Perry, and what that something was to be was a matter for grave consideration.

However, with Miss Rose's help, the money was at last laid out on some tea and some biscuits, and, greatest treat of all, a smoked haddock, to make a feast for the tea which was to crown the end of that glorious afternoon.

The tea and the fish and some of the biscuits were for Mrs. Perry, and some of the biscuits were for Dick, as his share of the rejoicing, but for Miss Rose Huldah had nothing, and that was the one cloud on that happy, wonderful day. It was rather a big cloud, too, for she did long to do something for her, to show how grateful she was, and the thought of it kept her very quiet and grave for a part of the drive home.

"Are you tired, brownie?" asked Miss Rose, presently, noticing her silence.

Huldah looked up with grateful, happy eyes. "Oh no, miss. I am too happy to be tired! and it's lovely to feel the warmth of my cloak coming in to my shoulders. I think it is so beautiful. Do you like it, miss?"

"Very much indeed, and I like to have our brownie in brown again; it seems just right!"

Huldah laughed happily. "I wish"-she began, then stopped, as a sudden idea flashed on her mind. Why, of course, she could be a real brownie, and by getting up very early she could, without anyone's knowing anything about it, make one of her prettiest and nicest baskets for Miss Rose! Her spirits went up, and up with pleasure at the thought all her gravity left her, and when at last they drew up before the cottage in Woodend Lane, her face was one big radiant smile. Mrs. Perry was at the door as soon as they had reached the gate.

"Oh my!" she exclaimed, throwing up her hands with pleasure and surprise at the sight of Huldah walking up the path actually wearing her new purchase. "Oh my, how nice we do look! Now, I do call that just perfect!"

The child's face was glowing with health and happiness, her eyes were beaming with affection, and eager for sympathy. Could she possibly be the little ill-used, runaway waif who had come to her door starving, only so short a time ago? Mrs. Perry asked herself the question as she looked at her, and in her heart thanked God for sending her this blessing, this chance to help another; and for staying her tongue when she had felt tempted to bid her begone.

Across her mind too flashed the thought of what might have happened to Huldah, if she had turned her away that night. Would it have been to the workhouse, or the jail she would have drifted,-this bonnie, healthy, smiling child? But her mind was drawn back to healthier thoughts by Huldah's little brown work-worn hands.

"Don't you like it, ma'am?" she was asking, troubled by the gravity on Mrs. Perry's face.

"Like it!" she cried, coming back to the present with glad relief. "I should think I did, and you in it, too, dear!" and for the first time in her life she stooped and kissed the little maiden, and Huldah returned the kiss with all the warmth of her affectionate heart welling up to her lips.

It was the first time anyone had kissed her since her mother died, and the first time that she had kissed anyone but Dick and Charlie.

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