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   Chapter 5 A TEA-PARTY IN THE ROW.

Little Miss Joy By Emma Marshall Characters: 16171

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The hot summer days passed by in the Row, and the inhabitants took advantage of the long evenings to go down to the beach and pier, and listen to the bands playing merry tunes, and watch the gaily-dressed people who frequent Yarmouth in the season.

Little Miss Joy was drooping somewhat with the heat, for the summer was one of rather unusual warmth. But though she was quieter, and her voice was not so often heard singing like a bird from her high window opposite Mrs. Harrison's, still she did not get dull or cross. "My Sunbeam!" her old friend called her; and there was nothing he liked better than to sit at his door, after business hours, while Joy talked to him or read him a story. She went to a little day-school in the market-place, and was, in old Mr. Boyd's opinion, a wonderful scholar.

Joy had many things to tell of her school-fellows, and there was one who use to excite her tender pity and her love.

Bertha Skinner was a tall, angular girl of fourteen, who was the butt of the school, often in tears, always submissive to taunts, and never resenting unkindness. That little Miss Joy should choose this untaking girl as her friend was the cause of much discontent and surprise in Miss Bayliff's little "seminary for young ladies." No one could understand it, and little Miss Joy was questioned in vain.

"Such an ugly, stupid girl, always dressed like a fright, and she can't add two and two together. I wonder you speak to her, Joy."

But Uncle Bobo, though confessing that he was surprised at Joy's taste, had a faint notion of the reason she had for her preference.

"It's like my little Joy," he said; "it's just out of the kindness of her heart. She thinks the girl neglected, and so she takes her up, bless her!"

"May I ask poor Bet to spend Thursday afternoon with me, Uncle Bobo?" Joy asked one hot August morning as she was ready for school. "May I, please? It's early closing day, and we have a half-holiday. Dear Goody Patience says she will take us to the sands, and perhaps Jim Curtis may give us a row. I should like that."

"Well, I have no objection, my pretty one; the poor thing has no treats!"

"Treats! Oh, Uncle Bobo, she is miserable! Her grandmother is so sharp, and tells her she is a useless fright, and things like that. And then there's her Uncle Joe, he is horrid!"

Mr. Boyd laughed.

"Ah, ah! Miss Pinckney's suitor; he isn't very nice, I must say."

"Suitor, Uncle Bobo; what's a suitor?"

"You'll know time enough, my dear, time enough. You'll have a score of them, I dare say; and I hope not one of them will be like Master Skinner, that's all. He's like one of the lean kine you read to me about last Sunday in the Bible. But leanness is no sin; p'r'aps he'll get fatter by-and-by."

Little Miss Joy was mystified, and repeated to herself, and then aloud:

"Does suitor mean the same as 'young man' and 'lover,' I wonder?"

"Bless the child's innocence! Yes, my dear, you've got it now."

"But, Uncle Bobo, could an old, old lady like Miss Pinckney have a suitor?"

"Oh, yes, my dear, yes! She set her cap at me once. She is-well-not much short of fifty; that's a girl, you know. All are girls till they marry; old girls, we call them!"

"But my dear Goody Patience is ever so much younger, and oh! she said last night, 'I don't feel as if I was ever young, or a girl,' and then she looked so sad."

"Ah! my dear, she has had a sight of trouble, has poor Mrs. Harrison. First, her husband making off, leaving a good business-a very good business here, as a master of a lot of herring boats, with a share in one of the big curing houses where the bloaters are the best to be had in the trade. But my young man must needs be off whaling, and never came back again. Poor Patience! It's a sad story. For my part, I wish she would call herself a widow and have done with it. There's some one ready enough to make her a happy wife."

"Really, Mr. Boyd, if I was you I would not put such nonsense into the child's head," said the good old servant. She had lived behind the little dark shop for some thirty years, and now came forward into the light, blinking as an owl might blink in the bright rays of the August sun, which at this time of day at this time of year penetrates the narrow row and shines right down into it.

"Yes, I say it's nonsense to put into the child's head. Run off, my dear; run off."

"And I may ask Bet Skinner to come to tea, and dear Goody too; and you'll buy a plum-roll and cheese-cakes for a treat. Will you, Uncle Bobo?"

"Yes, my dear; I'll make a feast, see if I don't; and we'll have a good time."

"Tea on the leads, tea upstairs, Uncle Bobo."

Uncle Bobo nodded; and Joy ran off gaily with her invitation ready for poor Bertha.

Uncle Bobo was as good as his word, and on Thursday morning sallied forth early to the confectioner's shop at the end of the row, and returned with a variety of paper bags stuffed full of cakes, and chucking them across the counter to Susan, said-

"Spread the tea up aloft, as the child wishes it; it's cool up there, and plenty of air."

Tea on the leads may not seem to many who read my story a very enchanting prospect, but to little Joy it was like tea in Paradise!

The houses of the rows had many of them flat roofs behind the gables, which faced those opposite, and here flowers were cultivated by those who cared to do so, linen was hung out to dry, and in one or two instances pet doves cooed, or poor caged thrushes sang their prison song.

Susan grumbled not a little at carrying up the provisions; but the boy Peter was pressed into the service, and Uncle Bobo brought up an old flag, which Peter tied to a pole, and set up to wave its rather faded colours over the feast.

While these preparations were being made, Mrs. Harrison, and little Joy, and Bertha Skinner were on their way to the beach to watch the pleasure-boats pulling off with the visitors, and the children making their sand-castles and houses, and paddling in the pools the sea had left. The tide was ebbing, and wide patches of yellow sand were separated from the beach by streams of water; sea-weeds threw out their pink feathery fronds, and shells of many varied colours lay beneath.

Mrs. Harrison sat down, leaning her back against a boat, and the children ran down to the water's edge.

The wife and mother was sad at heart; not one word from Jack-not one word. She looked across the boundless sea, and thought how it had taken from her the husband of her youth, and the boy who was the light of her eyes. Why was she so tried? Why was her trouble always to be, as it were, in one direction, her position always suspense, always uncertainty, always waiting and watching, and dreading what news might come at last?

George Paterson was a ship's carpenter, and well known along the coast and on the quay. He had made every inquiry, but could not get any direct tidings of Jack.

Several ships had sailed early that fine morning-the Galatea, for Constantinople; the Siren, for a Norwegian port; the Mermaid, for Genoa; but no one had any recollection of noticing a boy go aboard. Indeed, there were but few people who could have seen him, for few were stirring at that early hour, except those who were obliged to be at their post at sea or on shore, and they were probably too much engrossed with their own concerns to heed him, even if he had been seen.

Patience had borne up bravely under this last sorrow. In some ways Jack's absence was a relief-she had been always treading, as it were, on the edge of a volcano, that might send up fire and smoke at any time.

We all know what a strain it is upon body and mind to be always seeking for peace, while those around us make themselves ready for battle; and the terror at every meal that there would be a scene between Jack and his aunt, with the effort to prevent it, had been a perpetual strain upon Mrs. Harrison. At least that fear and dread were taken from her, and her heart said-

"If only I knew he was well and happy I should be glad to know that he

was gone away from so much that jarred and fretted him; but it is the silence and the terrible suspicion they raise that he was a thief that overwhelms me sometimes."

As these thoughts were passing through Mrs. Harrison's mind George Paterson came up; he had been watching her and the children for some minutes, and the sympathy for the poor deserted wife and mother filled his honest blue eyes with tears.

All the gay people about her-the singing of a large party which filled one of the pleasure-boats, the bustle and activity everywhere-seemed to force upon George Paterson the painful contrast between the glad and happy and the sad and deeply-tried woman, whom he loved better than anything in the wide world. Oh that she would let him comfort her, take her to a pleasant home on the Gorlestone Road, with a garden full of flowers, and where peace and plenty reigned!

But George loved Patience too well to weary her with importunity. He would never add a straw's weight to her care by undue persistence in urging his suit.

"Well," he said, pointing to Joy and her companion, "they seem happy enough. It's odd that little Miss Joy should choose for her friend that untaking niece of Joe Skinner's. She is very like him-just as unwholesome-looking and sly too."

"Poor girl! She has a melancholy time of it at home, so Joy tells me. It is just like her to take pity on one who is not cared for."

"I dare say. She is a little darling, and no mistake!"

"This is early-closing day, and a half-holiday at Joy's school-that is why we are out pleasuring. We are to have tea on the leads at Mr. Boyd's. Will you come with us? for we ought to be getting back. I promised Amelia I would be in at six o'clock, as she wants to go walking with Mr. Skinner."

"Well, she had better stay at home, that's certain. That fellow is a rogue, if ever there was one!"

Mrs. Harrison was silent for a moment; then she said quietly, "I have no reason to love him, for he helped to drive my boy out of the house."

"No doubt he did; and-I hardly like to say what I think-but I believe he made a plot about that money-box."

"Oh! I have often thought so, and put away the thought as wrong and wicked."

"We'll speak plain English for once," George Paterson said. "That man means to marry your sister, and get hold of all she possesses."

"Oh, George! Amelia is close on fifty, and Mr. Skinner can't be much over thirty."

"That does not matter; the same thing is done every day. Don't we see great folks setting the example, and ladies of any age marrying young fellows who want their money? You may depend upon it, Skinner has this in his little sly eye. Well, I shan't do him any good by abusing him, nor myself neither; so I'll have done."

"Not a word from Jack," Mrs. Harrison sighed out-"not a word."

"If he is off on a long voyage, as he may be, I never thought you would have a word. You must wait till Christmas for news."

"Till Christmas! Ah! those were his father's last words-'I'll be back by Christmas;' and how many Christmases have come and gone since that day, and never a word-never a sign."

"The dead cannot give either words or signs," George said; and then, as he saw Patience cover her face with her hands, he was sorry that he had uttered what was an obvious truth, and added gently-

"If your husband had been alive he would come or write, for he loved you; and how can any man who loved you forget or change?"

Patience did not reply, and little Miss Joy, having caught sight of George Paterson, came springing towards him.

"Oh! I have got some beautiful shells," she said-"such a big one. Put it to your ear, and listen to the sound of the sea. And Bet has got one too. Come, Bet, and show it."

Bet advanced slowly and awkwardly, her angular shoulders nearly touching her ears, her rough sandy hair gathered into a little knot at the back of her head, on which a very shabby brown hat was set on one side.

Bertha had the cringing, deprecating manner of an ill-used dog. No one liked her, no one cared for her, and she was fully alive to the fact. Only sweet little Miss Joy ever said a kind and pleasant word to her, and her devotion to this merry child filled her whole soul. She dare not show it; she dare not lavish any of the ordinary endearments upon her. She saw the other girls at Miss Bayliff's kiss and fondle her; she heard her praised and admired; she saw little gifts showered upon her-but she did none of these things. Poor Bertha's was a blind and dumb worship for one who smiled at her when others frowned, who could seek her society when others shunned it, and could encourage her with her tasks-so far below her age-when others called her a dunce and an idiot.

The tea on the leads was a great success; although, to be sure, a few black tokens from a neighbouring chimney peppered the cakes, and one or two danced into Mr. Boyd's large breakfast-cup full of tea. Before tea was over, however, the shop-door bell was heard to ring furiously, and Susan, who had been invited to her share of the feast, trudged down, to trudge back, breathless and indignant, after a few minutes' absence, saying-

"Miss Pinckney can't give no one any rest. She is wanting you, Mrs. Harrison, to go and keep the house, as she is off with Mr. Skinner. I shouldn't hurry now if I was you. Let her wait, Mrs. Harrison."

"No; I promised to go back by six o'clock."

"Saint Nicholas clock has not struck yet," said Uncle Bobo. "Don't you hurry, Mrs. Harrison, for we must have a song before we part-eh, my Joy?"

"If you please, Uncle Bobo, let it be 'Tom Bowling.'"

Whereupon Mr. Boyd began to groan forth in not very dulcet tones the familiar song and strain, beginning-

"Here, a sheer-hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling."

Mr. Boyd's voice had not been very musical in youth, and now the sounds seemed to come more from his boots than from his lips. But Joy was a delighted listener. Then she followed with one of Mrs. Alexander's "hymns for little children," and as she sang, in her sweet childish treble, the words seemed to speak peace.

"On the dark hill's western side

The last purple gleam has died;

Twilight to one solemn hue

Changes all, both green and blue.

"In the fold and in the nest,

Birds and lambs are gone to rest;

Labour's weary task is o'er,

Closely shut the cottage door.

"Saviour, now in sweet repose

I my weary eyelids close,

While my mother through the gloom

Singeth from the outer room."

Joy paused, and putting her little hand in Mrs. Harrison's, said-

"I have never any mother but you, dear Goody; and I know she must be glad I've got you, as God took her away from me."

It was very seldom that Joy referred to her position in Uncle Bobo's house, and indeed very seldom that she thought of it. She had been told that she had been laid at Uncle Bobo's door as a Christmas gift, and that had been enough for her. But since she had been to Miss Bayliff's school there had arisen a question in her little mind as to why she had never known either father or mother-a question no one could answer.

The bell ringing again more violently than before made Mrs. Harrison hasten away, and she had just gone when the clock struck six.

"I should like to take Bet home, Uncle Bobo. That will be such a nice end to our feast. Will you come?"

Uncle Bobo was not fond of walking, but he never liked to refuse Joy anything, and very soon he might be seen toddling along the row, with his short, stout legs, and rosy apple face, singing out a cheery "Good-evening" to such neighbours as were about, and taking Joy's little hand in his, while she danced at his side. Presently she let go her hold on Uncle Bobo's hand, and said in a low voice-

"I think I'd better walk with poor Bet, Uncle Bobo. She looks so sad walking behind us."

"So do, my Joy, so do. You've a kind little heart, and may no one ever say a cross word to you, or do an unkind action."

Joy fell back with a radiant smile, and, putting her hand into Bet's arm, drew her on in front.

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