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Little Miss Joy By Emma Marshall Characters: 12846

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The sea lay calm and still under a cloudless sky. The tide was out, and there was only a faint murmur like the whisper of gentle voices, as the little waves told to the sands that they were coming back soon, for the tide had turned.

It was yet early morning, and the old town of Great Yarmouth was asleep. The fishing boats had been out all night, and were lying like so many black birds with folded wings, waiting for the flow of the water to bring them to the beach. All the blinds were down in the houses facing the level strand. There was no one moving yet, for the resonant clock of Saint Nicholas Church had only just struck four.

The children of visitors to Yarmouth, tired with their exertions on the sand the evening before, were all wrapt in profound slumber.

Happy seaside children, who had paddled and delved on the beach to their hearts' content, who had braved all the reproaches of mothers and nurses, and had gone home with their buckets full of seaweed, pebbles, and shells, looking like the veriest little ragged waifs and strays, who were known as "the beach children," and who were an ever-moving population gathered from the depths of the town, pattering with naked feet round the boats as they came to shore, to pick up odd fish which fell from the nets as they were spread out to dry.

A great expanse of sand stretches out from Yarmouth, and over this the wind whistles through the long parched grass which grows in patches, interspersed with the little pink mallow and stunted thistles, which are not discouraged by their surroundings, and flourish in spite of difficulties. This wide expanse of sand and sand-mounds is called the Denes; and as little weary feet plod over it, it seems in its vastness a very desert of Sahara. Yet there is a charm about the Denes which the children feel. A sense of freedom, and a power to deal with the sand after their own will, were checked by repeated exhortations from governess or nurse to take care of their clothes. Yet the soft silvery sand can do no harm, and a prick from a blade of the pointed grass, or a scratch from a thistle, are the only dangers that beset it.

The town of Yarmouth lies at some distance from the sea, and possesses one feature of rather unusual interest. There is a fine quay, shaded by trees, alongside which many large ships from all countries lie. There is a wide market-place and several good streets. But the heart and core of the old town is to be found in the "rows," narrow thoroughfares with tall houses on either side, where many a competency, if not a fortune, has been made in days past.

Very little sunshine or light penetrates the rows, and some of the inhabitants have a faded, washed-out look, like that of a plant shut in a dark place, which shows but a faint colour of either leaves or blossom.

Perhaps the pale woman standing by the door of a small shop, the shutters of which were not yet taken down, was a fair specimen of her neighbours. She was tall, but drooped so much that her real height was lost. She had a sad face, where lines of care and anxiety had made a network perhaps earlier in life than wrinkles had any right to appear, if they should be traced by time rather than by sorrow. For Patience Harrison was not an old woman, and had scarcely entered her thirty-sixth year.

As she stood at the narrow entry of the shop, her hands folded, her head bent forward, she might well attract any passer-by, while she looked right and left, as if in hopes of seeing a well-known figure come into the row, from either end.

Up and down, up and down, that eager, hungry glance, with an infinite pathos in the dark eyes, scanned the narrow passage; and grew more pathetic and more hungry every moment.

At last footsteps were heard on the pavement. Patience started, and took a step forward, only to draw back again disappointed.

"The top of the morning to you, Mrs. Harrison. You are about early. It is as fine a summer morning as I ever was out in."

The speaker was a tall, well-knit young man of two or three and thirty, with a fine open countenance, and a broad square brow, round which thick light curls clustered. No contrast could be greater than between Patience Harrison and George Paterson: the man so full of life, and the enjoyment of life; the woman so languid and weary-looking. He seemed as if the world were a pleasant place to him, she as if it were a waste and a wilderness.

"You are up and about early," George repeated. "Indeed, you look as if you hadn't been to bed. I hope you haven't been up all night. Have you, now?"

"Yes. How could I sleep? How could I rest? There was a worse storm than ever last night at supper-time, and-and-Jack ran away out of the house, and has never come back."

"The young rascal!" George exclaimed. "I'd like to thrash him!"

"Oh, don't say so! Don't say so! If ever a boy is scourged by a tongue, Jack is. I mean to leave this house; I can't-I can't bear it any longer."

"Well," George said, his eyes shining with a bright light-the light of hope-"well, there's a home ready for you, you know that. The sooner you come, the better."

"You know I can't do it. Why do you ask me? I wonder you should ask me."

"I see no wonder in it," was the answer. "You've watched and waited for eleven years; sure that's long enough! He will never come back."

"Yes," she said sadly; "yes. I have waited and watched, as you say. It is the business of my life. I shall watch and wait to the end."

George Paterson gave an impatient gesture, and settled the workman's basket on his broad shoulders, as if he were going to walk on. But after a pace or two he seemed to change his mind, and stopping, he said-

"But what about Jack? How did it happen?"

"He offended her yesterday. He brought dirty boots into the parlour; and he blew a tune on the little cornet you gave him, when she told him to be quiet. He upset a jug of water on the table, and he made a face at her, and he called her 'an old cat.' He had no business to call her names."

George laughed.

"A very fitting name, I think; he has felt her claws often enough. Well, what then?"

"Then she boxed his ears-it was at supper-and he flew into a rage, and he would not listen to me, but tore out of the room, out of the house, and has never come back. Oh, George, what if there should be two to wait and watch for, instead of one! Jack! Jack! How c

ould he leave me?"

"He can't have gone far; and, as to being out all night, why, that won't hurt him. The young rascal, to give you all this trouble! Yes, I'll go and hunt for him; and if I catch him, won't I give it to him!"

"No, George; no. Remember his provocation. Remember he has had no father, only a mother like me to control him."

"Only a mother like you! I should like to know where a better could be found! I am sorry for the boy that he has had to live with a cross-grained old maid, but for your sake he ought to have put up with it."

"She means well. She took us in for my father's sake, and she has kept me and the boy from starving."

"You have earned your living; you have worked well for her, and she knows it. But I will go and hunt for Master Jack. See! I will leave my basket of tools here as an assurance that I am coming back. You go and lie down, and I'll have the young master back before an hour is over. Come, go indoors; you look ready to drop."

But Patience shook her head.

"I am used to waiting and watching," she said again; "it's nothing new."

Then her eyes began their search up and down the row, with the same wistful, eager gaze.

George Paterson had put the basket of tools just within the doorway, and turning to her said-

"Look up at that strip of blue sky, Patience; look up, not downward so much."

As he spoke he raised his head, and pointed to the narrow bit of sky which made a deeply blue line above the tops of the tall houses.

"That tells of love," he said-"God's love which is over us. Take heart, and lift it up to Him in your trouble."

George spoke out of the fulness of his own heart: not in any way as if he set himself up to lecture his listener, but just simply to try to raise her thoughts from the gnawing anxiety which had laid hold on her.

"Yes," she said, "the bit of sky is beautiful, but it is so far off; and-don't be angry with me, George, but I wish you would go and find him. Let me come with you!" she exclaimed.

"No, no; I shall be quicker than you are. I can get over the ground in half the time."

Neither asked the other where George would look for the truant. Both had one thought-Jack had been to the quay, and was perhaps on board one of the ships lying there. He had threatened before that he would go to sea, and leave Miss Pinckney and her scoldings and fault-findings behind him.

"If it had not been for his mother he would have done so long ago," he said. "He loved the sea, and he wished to be a sailor, as his father had been before him."

As George's quick, firm steps were heard dying away in the distance, Mrs. Harrison pulled a stool towards her out of the shop, and seated herself just within the doorway.

She was scarcely conscious of anything but the fear, growing greater every moment, that Jack-the sunshine of her life, the light of her eyes-had gone from her. She leaned her head against the door, and looked up at the sky half unconsciously. As she looked, a blind in one of the windows of the opposite house was lifted, and the window cautiously opened, while a head with a tangle of golden hair was thrust out, and a little voice-clear, like the sound of a thrush in a tree-sang in sweet dulcet tones some verses of a childish morning hymn:-

"Now the eastern sky is red,

I, too, lift my little head;

Now the lark sings loud and gay,

I, too, rise to praise and pray.

"Saviour, to Thy cottage home

Once the daylight used to come:

Thou hast often seen it break

Brightly o'er the Eastern lake.

"Blessed Jesus! Thou dost know

What of danger, joy, or woe,

Shall to-day my portion he-

Let me meet it all in Thee."

Here the sweet, clear voice broke off suddenly, for the child saw that her opposite neighbour on the doorstep was looking up at her.

"Mrs. Harrison," she said, nodding and kissing her hand. "I see you! I'm coming down when I'm dressed. Uncle Bobo isn't awake yet."

Then the head disappeared, and there was silence for a few minutes.

Presently the bolts of the opposite door were gently drawn, and out came the daintiest little figure, in a fresh blue cotton frock and white pinafore, her rosy lips parted with a smile, and her eyes dancing with the light of the morning of life. Dear unclouded child-eyes! How soon they lose that first sweet innocent gaze! How soon the cares and sins of this weary world shadow their depths, and the frank gaze which tells of faith in all that is lovely and beautiful is changed into one of distrust, and sometimes of sorrow.

"Well, little Miss Joy!" Patience Harrison said, as the child tripped across the row, and flung her arms round the waiting mother's neck.

"Well, dear Goody Patience. Why are you sitting here all alone, and looking so sad? Why, Goody, dear Goody, you are crying!"

For the child's loving caress had touched the fountain of tears, and, sobbing, the poor mother said-

"Oh, little Miss Joy! Jack has run away. I couldn't sleep, so I came down here."

"Run away, Jack! Oh, how naughty of him to grieve you! But he will come back-of course he will. Don't cry, my dear Goody Patience; don't cry. Of course he'll come back. What was it all about?"

"A fuss with his poor Aunt Amelia, as usual; and Jack was rude, I know, and he did not behave well; but--"

"I am afraid," Joy said thoughtfully, "Jack is not a good boy to Miss Pinckney. He is no end good to me, and I love him dearly, and so does Uncle Bobo. He says he is like a fine ship-all sails set and flags flying and no compass-which gets on rocks and quicksands, because there is no guide. That is what Uncle Bobo says."

"It is quite true-quite true," Patience said. "I do not excuse him, though I know he has had a great deal to try his temper in his Aunt Amelia's house."

"I dare say he will come back, and be a good boy. I'll talk to him," Joy said, with a wise nod of her golden head. "I'll talk to him, and he will never run away again."

"But, Joy, he is gone; and though Mr. Paterson thinks he knows where to find him, I don't believe he will find him."

"I must go indoors now; for here is Peter coming to take down our shutters, and Uncle Bobo will be wanting his breakfast, and I always help Susan to get it ready. I shall be on the watch, and the minute Jack comes back I will run over."

Then, with showers of kisses on the pale, woe-struck face, little Miss Joy was gone.

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