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   Chapter 11 HULDAH'S NEW HOME.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 16107

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


And there was very much to be faced, she found as the days came and went, for within a week of that afternoon when Emma Smith crossed her path again, much had been discussed and arranged, and another change was to come into Huldah's life.

The doctor, the vicar's own doctor, had seen and examined Emma Smith, and had given her but another year to live. He had not told her that, but he had warned her very gravely that she was in a very bad state of health, and that he would not answer for the consequences, if she did not obey him; and something in his voice or manner had stopped her peevish complainings, and set her thinking seriously.

The doctor strongly urged that she should go to the workhouse infirmary. "She will be well nursed and looked after there," he said, "and she will be provided with all she requires," but she herself showed such violent opposition that at last, in fear for her health, they ceased to press it. Had they done so, she would surely have run away. At the same time she had no other home, no means, and what powers she had had of earning any were fast failing her.

"I thought you'd be able to help me, now you'm getting on so well," she said to Huldah. "We fed and clothed and did everything for you, and now's your chance of returning some of it." Then her mood changed, and she wept and moaned, and clung to the girl passionately. "Don't you leave me!" she pleaded, hysterically; "don't you go and turn your back on me, too. You was mine before you was hers," nodding her head towards Mrs. Perry.

Her clinging to Huldah was more than a passing fancy, as they found, when they tried to get her to go into a home where she could have had rest and change and food and nursing. She sobbed and pleaded, then flatly refused to go, unless Huldah went too.

"She's the only one in the world I know," she cried. "Don't send me away with strangers, they'll all look down on me, and-and I-no, I couldn't bear it. I won't go, I won't, I won't! I'll go off on the tramp again, where none of you will ever find me, and I won't ever bother any of you any more."

At last Huldah went with tears in her eyes to Miss Carew. "I'll have to go with her, miss," she said, piteously. "She can't go away on the tramp all by herself. I can keep us both pretty well. I must go with her, Miss Rose, wherever she goes; she hasn't got anybody else."

This of course they could not allow. They could never send such a child as Huldah out into the world, with only a dying woman as companion and protector, to live where and how she could, in nobody knew what dreadful haunts. So it was decided between them that Emma Smith was to settle down amongst them, and Huldah must leave Mrs. Perry and go to live with her. No lodgings could be found for her, for in that village the houses were not big enough to hold in comfort even the families that lived in them, and there was certainly no room for a lodger. And houses were as scarce as lodgings.

At last a brilliant idea came to Miss Carew, and with her father's permission she hurried off with the good news.

"You shall have the two rooms over our coach-house," she cried, delightedly, for it was a real relief to her to feel that Huldah would be so near her, and under her own eye. "They are a good size, and dry and airy; and we must all pull together to get what furniture we can."

Huldah's face grew brighter and brighter with every word Miss Rose uttered, for she had begun to fear that they would have to go elsewhere.

To be near Miss Rose, too, would help to make up for the pain of leaving Aunt Martha and Dick and the cottage, a parting which had been weighing on her more heavily than she would have liked anyone to know. Dick, it was decided, was to remain with Mrs. Perry, for without him she declared she could not live on in the cottage when Huldah was gone.

As soon as the rooms had been cleaned and papered, the furnishing began, and that was really rather fun. No one was rich, and no one could give much, but what they gave they gave with a will. Miss Rose turned out some sheets and pillow-cases, a table and a chair, the vicar ordered in half a ton of coal, the doctor's wife gave them a bed, some pieces of carpet, curtains, a kettle and an old basket chair. Mrs. Perry gave a teapot, cups and saucers, and a rag-rug of her own making. The doctor sent in some pots and pans, and meat and other food to put in them, and the folks in the village, who had come to know Huldah's story, turned out something, and sent, a jug, a brush, a sack of firewood, a bar of soap, and all manner of odds and ends, every one of which came in usefully. Huldah's own little bed and looking-glass and odds and ends came from her bedroom in the cottage, and all together helped to make the two bare rooms look home-like and comfortable.

The furniture was scanty and shabby, but to anyone accustomed to rough it as Emma Smith had done, the place was beautiful, and full of comfort and rest.

When it was ready, and she was first taken into it, she dropped into the basket chair by the fire, and burst into grateful tears. It was the first time she had shown any gratitude or pleasure in what was being done for her.

"It's like 'ome," she sobbed, weakly, "and I've never had one since I got married, till now,-and now-how I'm ever going to thank everybody, I don't know. I never seem able to do any good to anybody, I don't. 'Tis all take, with me, and no give, and I'm ashamed of it."

Huldah felt some of the load slip off her spirits as she looked about her. Here really was a home for Aunt Emma,-and now it rested with herself to make it as neat and comfortable and happy as a home could be. She would keep it as clean as a new pin, and as pretty as lay in her power. She tried to conquer her sadness by hard work, to put away her sorrow at leaving Aunt Martha and Dick and their happy life together.

"Brownies always go where there's most to be done, Miss Rose says, not where they'll be most comfortable," she said to herself, bravely, but her poor little face was very wistful. A few days later, though, when, after a long day's work, she sat down and looked about her, she remarked cheerfully, "I don't think anybody can go on feeling very miserable when they've lots to do and somebody to take care of." A glow of pride warmed her heart, as she sat there drying her water-soaked hands, and glanced from the gleaming stove and fire-irons to the speckless window, and well-scrubbed table.

On the table stood a jar full of autumn flowers, and on the window-sill a box full of brown earth and little roots, double daisies, primulas, wallflowers. This last was Huldah's special joy and pride.

"We'll have a proper little garden there, when the spring comes," she remarked proudly to Aunt Emma.

Aunt Emma shook her head in melancholy fashion. "I shan't be here to see it."

"Oh yes you will. You'll be helping me with the spring cleaning," said Huldah, trying to keep cheerful,-one of the hardest of her daily tasks, for Aunt Emma's melancholy seldom left her. She never saw the bright side of anything, poor soul, nor the best, nor did she try to; and the depressingness of it told on the child's spirits more than anyone knew.

She worked very hard indeed at this time. The vicar had given them the rooms rent-free; but Huldah's basket-making had to supply almost everything else-food, clothing, lights, and many an extra-needed for Aunt Emma. Their rooms were few, and there was not much in them, but all that had to be done fell to Huldah to do. Emma Smith never put her hand to anything, not even to wash a dish, cook a meal, or make her own bed. She needed a great deal of waiting on, too, and was very fretful. She did not like to be left alone, even while Huldah went out to do the errands; and on the days when the poor child had to go to Belmouth to deliver her work, or get more raffia, Aunt Emma had always a very bad turn, and an attack of melancholy.

It was quite pathetic to see the way she clung to the little waif she ha

d treated so cruelly when she had her in her power. She wanted no one but Huldah now, and she wanted her always. She loved her brightness and cheerfulness. When Huldah laughed and sang she was quite content, but the moment she was sad or quiet, Aunt Emma would grow peevish and uneasy.

"You'm fretting because you've got to stay here with me, I know. You'm longing to be back with that Mrs. Perry. I know it's 'ard to 'ave to live with a poor miserable creature like me, and I wonder you can bear it as well as you do."

Then she would burst into tears. It never occurred to her that she might try to make it less miserable for Huldah, by trying to be cheerful herself sometimes.

"I'm not fretting. I love taking care of you," pleaded poor Huldah. "I was only trying to think how to make a new-shaped basket that people might take a fancy to. Shall I read to you, Aunt Emma?"

Emma Smith loved being read to, and hour after hour Huldah spent over a book when she knew she ought to be at her basket-making. To try to make up the time, she got up at four or five in the morning, but in the winter that meant burning oil, and they could not afford that. Then one day it occurred to her to sing instead of reading, and after that she found things easier, for she could sing while she worked.

It was a strange medley of songs that echoed through the rooms in the thin child-like voice. "Home, sweet Home," "Father, dear Father, come Home," "God save the King," "The Old Folks at Home," were some of their favourites, and if the words and air were not always correct, they never failed to bring pleasure to both performer and audience.

Of hymns Huldah had a greater store in her brain, and by degrees these ousted the songs as favourites.

"Sing that one about the green hill without any wall round it," Aunt Emma said one day. "It does mind me so of 'ome when we were children. Our cottage was just at the foot of a hill like that, and mother used to turn us out there to play together by the hour. It was what they call a mountain. We used to dare each other to go to the top."

"Did you ever do it?" asked Huldah, plaiting away industriously.

"Never; we was so afraid. It was so high up, and the top looked so far away, and-oh, it used to frighten me! I'd dream at night that I was lost up there, and I'd call and call, and nobody ever heard me or came to save me."

"He'd have saved, if you'd asked Him," said Huldah, gravely.

"I wonder why He didn't save Himself," said Aunt Emma. "I spose He could have, couldn't He?"

"Oh yes, He could, and He could have struck all His enemies down dead if He'd liked, only He was always one for thinking about others, never about Himself."

"And that's the sort that always gets put upon," said Aunt Emma, quickly.

"He died that we might go to Heaven,

He died to make us good,

He died that we might be forgiven-"

Aunt Emma's voice failed, and she suddenly burst into tears. "I couldn't never be good enough," she sobbed, piteously. "I haven't been good since I was a child, and now I'm going to die-I know it, I feel it, I see it in the doctor's face, and-and everybody's. I've got to die, and just when I'm happy for the first time. He says He loves everybody, but nobody ever loved me, I never gave 'em reason to, and-and I'm afraid to die, Huldah! I've been so bad, and it'll be so lonely! I wouldn't mind so much if there was somebody over-over the other side that loved me."

There had been a footstep on the stair, but neither of them had heard it, and when Miss Rose entered the room neither of them saw her, for their eyes were blinded with tears.

"Oh, Aunt Emma!" cried Huldah, springing to her bedside, "I love you! I do, I do, and-and oh, I wish someone would tell you all about it, so that you'd understand, and feel happy!"

A soft, light step crossed the room, and a gentle hand was laid on

Huldah's bowed head. "Dear, shall I try? Shall we try together?"

Huldah sprang to her feet with a glad cry. "Oh, Miss Rose, I was longing for you to come. You can tell Aunt Emma."

Miss Rose sat down beside the bed, and laid her hand gently on Emma's hand. "I wish I was more clever," she said, wistfully. "I wish I could make you feel how dearly Jesus has always loved you, how He has wept for you and longed for you, how He has forgiven you all the neglect and insults you have heaped on Him, and has held out His arms, beseeching you to come to Him! At this very moment He is standing at the door, patiently waiting for you to let Him in. Will you keep Him outside, dear Emma?"

Miss Rose's voice died away, and silence reigned in the darkening room; the fire fell together and sent up a cheerful flame, Emma Smith lay thinking,-"Was it really true that He wanted her?" That she had turned her back on Him, and mocked and insulted Him, she knew, knew better than anyone else could,-and could He really love her in spite of all?

Miss Rose's voice broke the silence, singing softly,

"Knocking, knocking, who is there?

Waiting, waiting, oh, how fair!

'Tis a Pilgrim, strange and kingly,

Never such was seen before;

Ah, my soul, for such a wonder

Wilt thou not undo the door?

Knocking, knocking-what, still there?

Waiting, waiting, grand and fair,

Yes, the pierced hand still knocketh,

And beneath the crowned hair

Beam the patient eyes, so tender,

Of the Saviour, waiting there."

Low sobs broke from the poor soul on the bed, sobs of grief and joy and repentance. "If He really cares-if He is really like that!" she sobbed. "Oh, I want Him! I do want Him to love and take care of me, too!"

Miss Rose's arms were round her, her lips were on her brow. "My dear, He is all that, and more. He will take care of you always, in this world and the next. He will love you so that you cannot feel lonely any more. Put your hand in His, put all your troubles off on His shoulders, trust Him, and follow where He leads you, and nothing can harm you. Don't be afraid. He will lead you to a home, and love and happiness such as no one could know in this world, where we are all so weak and full of faults."

"Home! Will it seem like home?" she asked, timidly.

"I'll soon be at home, over there,

For the end of my journey I see,

Many dear to my heart over there

Are watching and waiting for me,

Over there, over there,

I'll soon be at home over there."

sang Huldah, softly. The flame died down, and left the room very dim, but still the three sat on, silent, thoughtful. Miss Rose sat between them, holding a hand of each.

"I expect 'twas Him as led me back to Huldah," said the weak voice, presently.

"Yes, dear. He was bringing you together, that all might be made happy between you."

"I am very glad He did. 'Twas more'n I deserved-after the way I'd treated one of His."

Huldah threw herself across the bed, her arms thrown round the dying woman. "Aunt Emma-Aunt Emma, don't! That's all forgotten. I deserved what I got. It's all over now; don't let's remember it any more!"

"Will you tell-Him you've forgiven me?"

"Yes, oh yes; but He knows, there's no need to tell Him. He knows we love each other now,-oh, Aunt Emma, if you can only get well, how happy we shall be!"

Miss Rose got up and stirred the fire to a blaze again. Her heart was glad, yet sad. Glad that this poor soul was coming to her Father, but at the same time sad, for she knew how little hope there was of Huldah's wish coming to pass. It was sweet, though, to the dying woman to hear the wish from the child she had ill-treated and neglected so long, and she clasped her to her in a paroxysm of love.

For a moment they lay thus, then Miss Rose put a handful of wood on the fire, and made the blaze grow bright and brisk.

"I am not going to talk any more now," she said, cheerily, "or let you talk, Emma, or I shall have a scolding from the doctor, but I am going to ask you and Huldah to give me a cup of tea, here in the firelight. Then, after that, I am going to tell you a little piece of news."

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