Title: The Little Gentleman
Author: Eleanora H. Stooke
Illustrator: E. R. Marquand
Release date: June 14, 2023 [eBook #70978]
Original publication: United Kingdom: National Society's Depository, 1910
Transcriber's note: Unusual and inconsistent spelling is as printed.
I. MELINA MAKES A FRIEND
II. MELINA AT HOME
III. MRS. BERRYMAN's HOARD
IV. GOING TO SUNDAY SCHOOL
V. MRS. BROWN'S INVITATION
VI. GOING OUT TO TEA
VII. LOCKED IN
VIII. GOOD FRIDAY EVENING
IX. ANTICIPATING THE BANK HOLIDAY
X. AN EVENTFUL DAY
XI. THE FIRE
"HULLOA, Melina, where are you going? How is it you aren't at school? You'd best look out or your Granny'll get the attendance officer around her again about you, and then she'll give you what you won't like!"
The scene was the corner of Jubilee Terrace, a row of small red-brick cottages on the outskirts of Hawstock, a large provincial west of England town, on a cold January morning; and the speaker—William Jones—was a tall, well-grown boy of about twelve years of age, comfortably clad, who had that minute emerged from one of the cottages and encountered an ill-tempered-looking little girl, a year or so his junior, to whom he had addressed himself.
"D' you think I'm afraid of the attendance officer?" demanded the little girl, who was called Melina Berryman. She spoke in a high, shrill voice, the voice of a scold, and her manner was argumentative. "And I ain't afraid of Gran either, so there!" she added.
The boy laughed unbelievingly, whilst his blue eyes twinkled with amusement as they travelled over his companion from the crown of her battered hat, decorated with a draggled plume of cocks' feathers, to the tips of her toes, which had worn through her stockings and were peeping out of her shabby boots. He was not really an unkind boy; but Melina Berryman was the butt of all the children who lived in Jubilee Terrace, and he found considerable amusement in teasing her. It was such fun to bait her into an ungovernable passion, to see her thin white countenance distorted with anger and her big eyes flash, and to listen to the volley of abuse which would flow so glibly from her lips when, facing her tormentor, she would look for all the world like a little wild animal, with her lips drawn back from her gleaming white teeth, and her shock of tousled hair.
"I ain't afraid of Gran either," she repeated, and she nodded her head knowingly; "she can't wollop me now." Her tone was triumphant.
"Why not?" asked the boy. "She gave it to you last week. I heard her; and I heard you afterwards—crying. My, how you did go on!"
Melina flushed and bit her lip, then scowled. She and her grandmother, her father's mother, occupied the cottage next door to the one in which William Jones, who was an only child, lived with his parents, a respectable couple who had but little intercourse with old Mrs. Berryman, who—the truth must be told—did not bear a good reputation and was addicted to drink. The inhabitants of Jubilee Terrace were nearly all of the working classes, people who laboured honestly; therefore they had been anything but pleased when old Mrs. Berryman, who it was said earned her livelihood by money-lending to the poorest of the poor, had a year or so previously taken up her abode at No. 2. She was a cross-grained woman who never passed a civil word with anybody, and it was generally thought that she was unkind to Melina, which was indeed a fact.
"You were at it for the best part of an hour, I should think," the boy proceeded, "howling like a good 'un! I wondered how you could keep it up. If you hadn't stopped when you did, mother would have paid Mrs. Berryman a visit; she threatened to, and—"
"Oh, I'm very glad she didn't," interrupted Melina; "if she had, Gran would have served me worse than ever afterwards."
"And yet you say you aren't afraid of your grandmother!"
"Not now. She's ill."
"Ill? Perhaps she'll die."
Melina shook her head; there was hopelessness in the gesture. "No such luck!" she exclaimed callously.
"Oh, Melina, you wicked girl, to speak like that!" William was really shocked, and looked it. "Has she had a doctor?" he inquired.
"No. She says she can't afford one, and wouldn't have one if she could; she says it's a bad cold she's got."
"I dare say it is. I've been home from school several days with a bad cold myself; this is the first time I've been out. I don't stay away from school for no reason, Melina, like you."
Melina regarded her neighbour with a sneer on her face, then deigned to explain that her absence from school to-day was accounted for by the fact of her grandmother's illness.
"I've got to look after Gran," she said; "I'm going to do some errands for her now, so I can't stay here any longer wasting my time with you." And, having spoken thus impolitely, she turned the corner of Jubilee Terrace and disappeared from sight.
In the street adjoining Jubilee Terrace was a small all-sorts shop which was also one of the branch post offices of the town. There it was that Melina made her purchases. For a shilling she bought several packages of groceries—a pennyworth of this, twopennyworth of that, and so on; and then, carrying her packages, she started for home. She was turning the corner into Jubilee Terrace when she came suddenly face to face with William Jones, who deliberately jutted his elbow against her, with the result that she let most of her packages fall. A cry of dismay escaped her lips as she perceived that a screw of paper, which had held two ounces of tea, had broken open, and that the tea was strewn on the muddy pavement.
"Oh, I say, I'm sorry," William was beginning truthfully, for he had not meant to do any real harm, when he was cut short by Melina, who sprang towards him with uplifted hand and dealt him a stinging box on the ear.
"You wicked, wicked boy!" she panted, and was about to hit him again when some one grasped her by the shoulder, and a man's voice said:
"Stop, stop! What is the meaning of this?"
Melina tried to free herself from her captor, but in vain; then she twisted herself around and looked him in the face, her eyes full of angry tears, her usually pale cheeks aflame. She found she was being held by a plain, under-sized man, a stranger to her, who was gazing at her in a nearsighted way through a pair of eyeglasses.
"Let me go!" she cried; "I hate him—ah, how I hate him!"
"Hush, hush!" said the stranger, "I don't think you mean that. Yes, yes, I saw what he did. It was very rough—very clumsy of him. But see, he is picking up your parcels for you; I don't think much damage has been done, except to the tea."
"It was two ounces and it costs tuppence," said Melina, in a voice which was tremulous with passion, "and it's all spoilt. If Gran wasn't ill she'd beat me, and he—" shaking her fist at the aggressor— "wouldn't care; she'll keep me without dinner now, I expect."
"If she does, I'll get mother to give you some," William said hastily. He had gathered together her packages, and now gave them to her, but she was not to be easily appeased.
"I'll be even with you yet," she declared, "that I will! You needn't think I'll forget this! You bumped against me on purpose, you know you did!"
The boy did not attempt to deny it. He was feeling glad that none of his friends had been present to witness what had passed, for he would not have liked it to have been known that Melina had boxed his ears; but he admitted to himself that he had done wrong, and, not wishing to prolong the scene, he murmured a few words of apology and turned away. The little girl gazed after him wrathfully till he disappeared within the door of his own home, then, overcome with agitation, her tears broke bounds and ran down her cheeks.
"Oh, don't cry, don't cry!" said the stranger kindly. All this while he had been holding her by the shoulder, but now he released his grasp, and, putting his hand into his pocket, produced two pennies, which he gave her, saying as he did so:
"There, you will be able to buy another two ounces of tea for your grandmother, and then you won't be kept without your dinner, will you?"
"No," she answered, with a brightening face. "Thank you, sir. I didn't want to go without my dinner because I'm—oh, so hungry! I only had a little bit of dry bread for breakfast at eight o'clock."
"And now it is past noon! Do you live alone with your grandmother?"
"Yes," sighed Melina. "My mother died when I was a baby, and father—he was Gran's son—gave me to Gran. I wish he hadn't, I'm sure."
"Your grandmother is very poor?" he questioned.
The little girl's face clouded again, and she hesitated before she answered "I don't know."
He looked at her in puzzled silence, noticing her unkempt appearance. She would have been a pretty child if she had been less painfully thin, but, as it was, she was a mere bag of bones. Whilst he was thus scrutinising her, she was no less attentively observing him. He was a very little gentleman, she thought, but there was something about him which she found attractive—perhaps it was the expression of good will with which he was regarding her. No one had ever looked at her like that before.
"Do you live near here?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir," she replied; "at No. 2 Jubilee Terrace."
"Ah! Then we shall meet again. I have come to live at Hawstock, to be a lay-helper in the parish."
Melina said "Yes, sir," though she had not the least idea what a lay-helper was. She was moving away when the little gentleman detained her.
"I hope you are going to forgive that boy who acted so rudely to you," he remarked; "I think he was ashamed of himself, and he apologised, you know."
"That was only because you were here," Melina said bluntly; "I know William Jones very well, and—" significantly—"he knows me."
Her pale face had flushed again; but, meeting her companion's eyes at that moment, something in them—a look of mingled sorrow and sympathy—caused her lips to quiver suddenly. "I—I am so miserable," she faltered, "everyone—yes, everyone is against me." She brushed a hand hastily across her eyes, then added: "Oh, I must hurry back to the shop for the tea, and get home to Gran!"
But once more the little gentleman detained her.
"You complain that everyone is against you," he said; "won't you tell me what you mean? Is not your grandmother kind to you?"
She shook her head, and, pulling up the loose sleeve of her blouse, exhibited a skinny arm covered with bruises. "That's her doing," she said, with a bitter laugh that sounded strangely from a child's lips; "no, she ain't kind to me—not when she's in drink anyway. When she's sober she lets me be."
"And is she your only relative? Your father—what of him?"
"He went away—I don't know where—years ago, when I was a baby. I don't remember him. Gran's always saying he'll come back some day. I wish he would; p'r'aps he'd be kinder than Gran."
The little gentleman looked at her pityingly. "Poor little girl," he said, "you must let me be your friend, will you?"
"Oh, sir!" exclaimed Melina in amazement. "I—oh, you can't mean it! You are a gentleman, and I—" She broke off with an expressive glance at her ragged frock.
"I do mean it," he said, smiling; "I hope to make many friends in this parish before long, and I shall count you as my first. By the way, you have not told me your name?"
"It is Melina Berryman, sir."
"Well, then, Melina, remember that I am your friend, and you will know that there is some one in Hawstock who is not against you—some one who would do you a good turn if he could and will pray for you to our Father in heaven."
"Do you mean God?" asked Melina.
He assented. "'If God be for us, who can be against us?'" he quoted.
The little girl gave him a quick, shrewd glance. "You ain't a parson," she said; "I wonder what makes you talk like that! I don't want to think of God. I'm afraid—" She broke off abruptly.
"Afraid of Him who gave His dear Son to be the Saviour of the world? Oh, surely not! Don't you know that Jesus is your Saviour? Don't you know that He promised 'Him that cometh to Me I will in nowise cast out'? He wants you to go to Him, to trust Him, to give Him your love, and then you will never feel lonely or friendless more. He is the one perfect Friend who never changes, never fails anyone. I can answer for that."
The little gentleman paused, his face glowing with the light of that faith which had been his guiding star for many a long year, and, taking one of Melina's little cold hands, he pressed it kindly.
"Good-bye, little girl," he said, "and God bless you. Before long I hope we shall meet again."
WHEN Melina returned to her grandmother she found her sitting up in bed, holding her sides and coughing, looking a miserable object indeed. Mrs. Berryman was an old woman of between seventy and eighty years of age, with a lined face, the skin of which looked like parchment; beady black eyes, exceedingly sharp; and a quantity of coarse white hair.
"You've been dawdling," she said in a harsh voice, as soon as her fit of coughing was over and she could find breath to speak; "you'd catch it if I was up and about, you lazy baggage, you! Get me a cup of tea, do you hear, and be quick about it!" She sank back on her pillow, and Melina heard her mutter to herself: "I don't know what's taken to me! I'm as weak as a cat!"
The little girl went downstairs, and, ten minutes later, came back with the tea. Her grandmother tasted it and made a wry face, but subsequently drank it.
"How do you feel, Gran?" Melina inquired, with more curiosity than sympathy in her tone.
"Bad," answered the old woman curtly.
"Don't you think you ought to have a doctor?"
"A doctor? No. I don't believe in doctors. I've told you so before."
Keeping a safe distance from the bed, Melina surveyed her grandmother meditatively. "What'll become of you if you get worse?" she asked presently; "you may die, you know."
"Die!" Mrs. Berryman shrieked forth the word with an angry glance at her granddaughter.
"Yes," nodded Melina, "and then you'd have to be buried, of course. I was wondering—would it have to be a parish funeral, with the workhouse hearse, and—"
"You wicked, cruel girl!" broke in Mrs. Berryman. "How dare you talk like this to me! I'm not going to die—not now, at any rate; but if I did, what do you think would become of you?"
Melina reflected for a minute, then replied: "I suppose I should go to the workhouse—I don't know that I'd altogether mind. Mrs. Jones said the other day that I should be better off in the workhouse."
"The impertinent, interfering creature! And you—oh, you are an ungrateful girl! After all I 'ye done for you, to talk like that! Haven't I given you shelter and food for more than ten years, and yet I don't believe you'd care if I was dead and buried!"
"No," admitted Melina frankly, "I don't believe I should. You've never been kind to me, Gran; often you've beaten me something cruel, you know you have! Why, my back and arms are sore and covered with bruises now from the beating you gave me last week!"
"I'm a bit heavy-handed, perhaps," Mrs. Berryman admitted hastily, "but you're enough to aggravate a saint sometimes, Melina. When I beat you, it's for your good—to make you a better child."
"But it doesn't make me better," Melina said. For once in her life she felt she had the advantage of her grandmother, and she was taking a naughty pleasure in the fact; she could say what she liked, for the old woman was too ill and weak to touch her. "The more you beat me the worse I am," she declared, "and I hate you—oh, you don't know how I hate you for being so cruel!" Her eyes flashed with indignation, and her thin frame trembled.
Astonishment kept Mrs. Berryman silent for a minute, then she said in a tone which was very mild for her:
"That's a nice way to talk to your grandmother! Don't stand there staring at me like that! Here, take my keys and get your dinner—you'll find some bacon in the corner cupboard; and don't let me see you again till I call for you. I'm going to try to get a nap, for I feel just worn out."
From under her pillow the old woman drew a bunch of keys, which she extended to her granddaughter, who took it in silence and went downstairs into the kitchen. The little girl knew which key fitted the lock of the corner cupboard, and, having unlocked the cupboard, she took therefrom a lump of fat bacon and a very stale loaf. She cut herself some bread and bacon, and, being very hungry, made an excellent meal; having done which she locked away the remains of her repast and the groceries she had purchased, and slipped the bunch of keys into her pocket.
It was cold in the kitchen, for the fire had burnt low; so Melina, making as little noise as possible, fetched some fuel from a cupboard under the stairs and made up the fire afresh. Soon she was warming herself before a fine blaze.
"I may as well make myself comfortable now Gran's out of the way," she reflected; "I wonder what she'd say if she saw how much coal I've used!"
A smile flickered across her face, but it was not a pleasant smile; for it was full of bitterness, and made her look old beyond her years. The expression of her countenance changed a few minutes later, however, as she thought of the little gentleman and recalled how kindly he had spoken to her, and her eyes—clear, changeful, hazel eyes they were—grew wonderfully gentle and soft.
"Fancy his wanting to be my friend!" she mused. "I can't understand why he should! And he said 'God bless you'! I shall never forget it—never, as long as I live! Oh, I do hope I shall see him again!"
Melina was unaccustomed to kindness, and, hitherto, she had felt at war with all the world. She was a sadly neglected little girl, and, it must be admitted, a very naughty one, disobedient to those in authority over her, and impatient of control. Frequently she would stay away from school for days, and pass her time in wandering about the streets gazing into the shop windows, or in taking long tramps in the country; and on several occasions the attendance officer had brought complaints to her grandmother: the last time he had called he had warned Mrs. Berryman that she would be summoned to appear before the magistrates if she did not see that her grandchild went properly to school. That had been the previous week; and, subsequently, Mrs. Berryman, who had been drinking, had given Melina the unmerciful beating which, though it had left her sore and bruised in body, had not broken her spirit in the least.
Presently Melina heard a rap at the back door, and went to see who was there. It was William Jones.
"I say, Melina," he began, "here's tuppence for the tea—I asked father for it when he came home to dinner. I—"
"Keep your tuppence!" interposed Melina, waving aside his extended hand and scowling at him in a vindictive manner; "I don't want it. I bought some more tea."
"Oh, did you? I didn't think you had any money. But, I say, you may as well take the tuppence—that'll be fair."
Melina hesitated—not about taking it, but whether or not she should explain that it had not been her own money which had replaced the tea; she decided against doing so. Thereupon, without answering the boy, she shut the door in his face, and returned to her former position in front of the fire.
By and by there came another knock at the back door. This time the visitor proved to be William Jones' mother, a neat-looking woman with a fresh-complexioned face, and blue eyes like her son's.
"Good afternoon, Melina," she said, as she met the little girl's glance of inquiry; "I'm sorry to hear that your grandmother's ill; I've made her a custard, thinking she may fancy it."
She held out a little basket, covered with a snowy cloth, which Melina took with a few murmured words of thanks, feeling very surprised, for as a rule Mrs. Berryman's neighbours refrained from having anything to do with her.
"I heard your grandmother coughing dreadfully in the night," Mrs. Jones remarked; "it sounded to me as though she had a very bad cold. She's wise to stop in bed, I'm thinking. You get her to eat that custard, and, if she enjoys it, I'll make her another. And oh, by the way, you'll find a bit of cake in the basket—that's for you, for your tea."
"Thank you," said Melina, moving aside the cloth and peeping into the basket. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "what a big bit of cake it is, Mrs. Jones, and how good it looks!"
"Well, I hope you'll find it tastes good," replied Mrs. Jones, smiling; "and, Melina, if you want any help whilst your grandmother's laid up, you just speak to me and I'll come in. I don't suppose there's more to be done than a girl of your age can do about the house; but if Mrs. Berryman should get worse, or you should require assistance in any way—well, you'll know who to call upon.' And with a nod she took her departure.
"Mel—lina! Mel—lina!" called a hoarse voice from above.
"Coming, Gran!" Melina answered, as she shut the back door. She took the custard in its glass dish out of the basket, and carried it, with a spoon, upstairs. "Look what Mrs. Jones has brought you," she said, as she entered her grandmother's room; "she made it on purpose for you, because you're bad."
"Mrs. Jones? Humph! How did she know I was bad?"
"She heard you coughing in the night," Melina replied, refraining from mentioning her conversation with William, who had doubtless carried the news of her grandmother's illness to his mother, lest she should be accused of gossiping. "Will you have the custard now?" she inquired.
Mrs. Berryman assented. She sat up in bed and commenced to eat it; but she appeared to have very little appetite, and, after swallowing a few spoonfuls of the dainty, she told her granddaughter to take the remainder away.
"I'll finish it to-morrow," she said; "it's very nice, made with eggs I taste, but somehow I can't relish it." Then, with a suspicious glance at Melina, she demanded: "Where are my keys?"
"Here," the little girl answered, putting her hand in her pocket and producing them.
"Give them to me."
Melina did so. The old woman placed the keys under her pillow, and lay back in bed with a deep-drawn sigh.
"If I'm not better to-morrow I'll have a doctor," she remarked, adding: "Mind, child, you're not to leave the house."
"All right, Gran; I won't."
Melina was quite content to remain indoors, for it had commenced to rain. She kept up a beautiful fire in the kitchen, and sat by it.
"It is so nice to be warm all through," she said to herself, as she enjoyed the pleasant heat; "Gran says she can't afford to keep in a fire all day, but I don't believe her—I don't believe she's as poor as she pretends."
By and by she fell to thinking of the little gentleman again, and mused on all he had said to her about Him he had called the one perfect Friend. She knew very little of God, and always thought of Him as a stern, merciless judge who took delight in punishing wrongdoers, never as a loving father, and, sad to tell, she never prayed. Mrs. Berryman kept her door shut against clergymen and ministers, and, as she never went to any place of worship, her granddaughter did not go either, the consequence being that the child had had no religious teaching except the little she had received at school, which had made scarcely any impression upon her.
"The little gentleman said he should pray for me," thought Melina; "I wonder if he's praying for me now, and, if so, what he's asking God to do for me—I should very much like to know."
THE little gentleman, whose name was Raymond Blackmore, had taken a house called South View, in Hawstock, a pretty detached villa surrounded by a garden; he had been in residence there only a week. Some months previously he had returned to England from India, where he had spent many years in the employ of a firm of colonial merchants, and, subsequently, he had paid the Vicar of Hawstock, the Reverend Paul Wise, who was an old friend of his, a visit, during which he had discovered that his friend was greatly overworked, and that he could not afford to pay for a curate out of his meagre stipend. Mr. Blackmore had not remarked upon these facts at the time; but, after he had left, he had written to the vicar, and suggested returning to Hawstock as a lay-helper.
"I want work," he had written; "I know you can find me plenty. Let me come."
He had come; and now, on the morning following the one on which he had made the acquaintance of Melina Berryman, he stood at his garden gate, after breakfast, watching the passers-by, most of whom were children on their way to the board schools. A great many of the children were bright-faced little people, warmly dressed, who were talking and laughing merrily; but some were scantily clad, and looked pinched and miserable, for the rain had ceased during the night, and early morning had brought a sharp frost, so that the air was now searching and cold.
Mr. Blackmore had a very soft place in his heart for all children, for the sake of two little ones of his own, who, with their mother, had fallen victims to cholera in India, in the early days of his residence there, more than twenty years previously; and his sympathy was aroused for the poor little shivering mortals hurrying by.
"It's easy to pick out those who have good parents," he muttered to himself. The vicar had told him that most of the want and misery in the place was caused by betting and drink; for employment was rarely scarce in Hawstock, even in wintertime, as there were several potteries and brick-works in the neighbourhood, and clay fields where men who were able and willing to labour could generally find work. "Ah, here comes the little girl I had the talk with yesterday! Dear me, how very cross she looks!"
Melina was coming along with her eyes cast down, her expression sulky in the extreme. Mrs. Berryman had declared herself better this morning, and had insisted that her granddaughter should go to school. This had not pleased Melina; but, being in fear of another visit from the attendance officer, she deemed it wise to go. Now, as she neared South View she became aware that there was a figure at the garden gate, and glanced up. Immediately she gave a start of surprise, and coloured with pleasure. She had not expected to see the little gentleman again so soon.
"Good morning, Melina," said he cheerily, with a friendly nod.
"Good morning, sir," she answered, the shadow of ill-temper passing suddenly from her face to give way to a smile which was as pleasant to see as a gleam of sunshine on a winter's day.
"I suppose you are going to school?" he questioned.
"Yes, sir. I didn't go yesterday because Gran was ill, and I had to stay at home to look after her; but she's better to-day—leastways she says so."
"Don't you think she is?"
Melina shook her head. "She looks bad enough," she said, "and she's not going to get up."
"Not going to get up! But you have not left her in the house alone, surely?"
"Oh yes! She'll be all right. I've locked her in, and I've got the door-key in my pocket; she said she'd feel safer if she was locked in—she's always afraid of being robbed." The little girl laughed, apparently amused at the idea.
"It hardly seems right that she should be left alone if she's ill," Mr. Blackmore remarked. Then, after a brief pause, he said: "I have had you continually in my mind since we met yesterday, Melina; did you think over our conversation afterwards?"
"Yes, sir," Melina answered. "Did you—please don't mind my asking, and never mind if you forgot—did you pray for me, sir?"
"I did," was the response.
"Oh!" The child's eyes were full of eagerness and curiosity. "I should like so much to know what you said—I've been wondering—" She broke off in some embarrassment, fearing that the little gentleman might consider her inquisitive.
He was silent for a minute, during which he took off his eyeglasses, wiped them with his pocket-handkerchief, and put them on again. When he spoke his voice sounded very gentle, very earnest.
"I said, 'O God, remember my new friend, the little girl I met this morning, and teach her to know Thy love, which passeth knowledge, for Jesus Christ's sake,'" he told her. "Do you pray for yourself, Melina?"
"No, sir; never."
"Then for those you love? Surely—" He stopped abruptly, for a smile he did not understand, half-bitter, half-amused, had flickered across her face.
"I don't love anybody," she said.
"Oh, my dear, that is very sad."
The hazel eyes softened suddenly, and grew misty with tears. She could not recollect that anyone had ever called her "my dear" before, and it touched her that the little gentleman had done so.
"I don't say any prayers," she explained; "what would be the use? God wouldn't listen to me."
"Oh yes, He would! Why do you think He would not?"
"Because I ain't good. Gran says I'm about as bad a girl as she ever knew. Oh no, God wouldn't listen to me!"
"You are mistaken, indeed you are. God loves you. You are His child—a very naughty child, I dare say, who often grieves Him; nevertheless you must not doubt that He loves you, and you must never imagine that He will not listen to your prayers. I suppose I must not detain you longer now, or you will be late for school; but some day I will call at your home, and—"
"Oh, I think you'd better not!" Melina interposed; "Gran would be sure to be rude to you if you did. She slammed the door in the vicar's face once; she won't let you come into the house. Oh please, please don't call, sir!" Her face was full of distress.
"Very well," he agreed, after a brief consideration. Melina drew a deep breath of relief, and then they exchanged good mornings, and she went on to school, her thoughts all about the little gentleman. She wondered what he was called, and if he had a wife and children—she thought that very likely he had.
"I expect he is very good and kind to them," she reflected; "it must be nice to have a father; I wish mine would come back!"
When Melina came out of school at midday she did not dawdle about the streets as usual, but went straight home. Thinking her grandmother might be asleep, she entered the house as noiselessly as possible, and went quickly upstairs. She pushed open the door of her grandmother's room and peeped in, with difficulty repressing a cry of astonishment the next moment at the scene which met her view. Mrs. Berryman was out of bed and kneeling before the fireplace, her back to the door, and on the hearthstone were several piles of gold and silver coins, which she had evidently been counting. Whilst Melina stood staring at her, struck dumb with amazement, the old woman took the money, pile by pile, and packed it into a small tin box, which, subsequently, she thrust into the chimney, behind the damper.
"Thirty pounds, ten shillings and sixpence," she muttered, as she essayed to rise from her knees; "oh, my poor joints! I'm that stiff I declare I can hardly get up!"
Melina did not wait to assist her. Acting on the impulse of the moment, she retreated quickly before her grandmother could turn round and see her, and stole downstairs as cautiously as she had come up. Then she opened and shut the front door noisily, and went into the kitchen.
"I knew she wasn't as poor as she made out, but I didn't know she was rich like that," thought the little girl; for the money she had seen seemed to her quite a fortune. "No wonder she is afraid of thieves! And oh, how wicked—how cruel of her—to pretend to be poor and not to give me warm clothes and proper food! Thirty pounds, ten shillings and sixpence! I must mind not to let her guess that I know where it is! Oh, I do wonder where she got it all!"
Melina was in total ignorance of her grandmother's present means of support. Some years before Mrs. Berryman had been an old clothes dealer and had kept a tiny shop in a squalid back street of the town, but she had given up that business when she had come to live in Jubilee Terrace. People called to see her "on business" now frequently, very poor people they seemed to be, and it was always a puzzle to Melina what they wanted; but she had never been able to find out, for her grandmother interviewed her visitors alone in the front downstairs room of the cottage, and if she ventured to question her about them she was invariably snubbed.
Mrs. Berryman had heard the front door open and shut, as Melina had intended she should, and was now calling to her granddaughter.
"Yes, Gran," Melina answered; and again went upstairs to her grandmother's room.
"You're back from school earlier than usual," remarked Mrs. Berryman, who by this time was in bed; "how's that?"
"Because I ran nearly all the way home," the little girl replied.
"What made you run?"
"I thought you might want me, Gran."
This was the truth, but Mrs. Berryman did not look as though she believed it. "I don't want you," she said ungraciously; "you can have your dinner and go again. I'm better and shall get up. I'm expecting some one here this afternoon to see me on business. Here, get your dinner!"
She produced her keys from under her pillow as she spoke. Her granddaughter took them, but did not move.
"Get your dinner!" Mrs. Berryman repeated sharply; "do you hear?"
"Yes, I hear," Melina answered, the expression of her countenance mutinous and sullen; "but I'm tired of cold bacon, and—"
"Tired of cold bacon! Oh, indeed! Well, you won't have anything else!"
"Give me a penny to buy a bun, Gran—do."
"What next? I shall do nothing of the kind. If you're not content with what's in the house, you can go without."
"Then I'll go without!" the child declared passionately, and, flinging the keys on the bed, she turned away and left the room.
She kept her word, and, hungry though she was, went dinnerless to school that afternoon. On her way home after four o'clock she was standing looking longingly into the window of a confectioner's shop when some one touched her on the arm, and, turning around, she saw William Jones.
"Hulloa, Melina," he was beginning, but something in her look caught his attention, and he paused to stare at her, then asked: "I say, are you hungry?"
"Awfully," she admitted.
"Oh, that's too bad!" he exclaimed. "Here, do take that tuppence—"
"No," she interposed stubbornly, "I won't."
"Then let me buy you some buns—"
"I wouldn't touch them if you did."
"Don't say that, Melina. I'm sorry for you—sorry you should be hungry, I mean—"
The little girl interrupted him again, her heart full of resentment and bitterness.
"You mind your own business, William Jones," she said; "I don't believe you're sorry—more likely you're glad."
IT was a Saturday morning, and Mrs. Jones was in the midst of the important business of ironing one of her husband's shirts when there came a knock at the back door, and, glancing out of the window, she saw her little neighbour, Melina Berryman.
"Come in, child!" she called out. "Oh, you've come to return my dish, I see," she said, as Melina entered the kitchen and laid the article in question on the table.
"Yes," assented Melina; "and Gran said I was to thank you for the custard, please, ma'am."
"I hope your grandmother is better?"
"Yes, thank you, ma'am."
"She hasn't lost her cough, though, I hear. Sit down, child, and talk to me whilst I finish this shirt."
Melina took a chair, secretly very gratified, for she had never been inside her neighbour's house before. What a comfortable kitchen it was, she thought, as she looked about her. The walls were colour-washed a pretty blue; there was linoleum on the floor; and the tins on the mantelpiece shone like silver. Everything was as clean and fresh as a new pin.
"I always cook on Saturdays," explained Mrs. Jones, as she put down her iron for a minute to peep into the oven, in which there was a shelf of little cakes. "I don't hold with cooking on Sundays if one can help it; besides, my husband and I like to go to church together, and we couldn't do that if there was a hot meal to be cooked. If you'll wait a few minutes, you shall have one of these rock-cakes for your lunch."
"Oh, thank you so much!" Melina said, feeling grateful, but puzzled too, for Mrs. Jones had hitherto had but little to say or do with her. "What a nice room this is!" she exclaimed a moment later, in an admiring tone.
"It's the same size as you grandmother's, isn't it?"
"Yes, but it's very different; it looks so comfortable and is so beautifully clean."
From this remark Mrs. Jones judged that the kitchen next door was not beautifully clean. She had resumed her ironing, and for a few minutes she was silent, thinking, whilst every now and again she glanced at her companion. At length she said:
"Some one was speaking to me about you yesterday, Melina; guess who it was."
"William?" suggested Melina hesitatingly, after a brief consideration.
"No. Mr. Blackmore, a friend of our vicar's, who's come to be a lay-helper—"
"Oh!" interposed Melina, "the little gentleman! I did not know what he was called before! What is a lay-helper, Mrs. Jones?"
"Some one—not a clergyman—who helps in the parish," explained Mrs. Jones. "Yes, Mr. Blackmore called to see me yesterday," she went on, "and a very nice little gentleman he seems to be, so pleasant and cheerful; and yet it appears he has known a lot of trouble. He told me he lost his wife and two children years ago, and that he hadn't a near relation in the world."
"Then does he live alone at South View?" Melina inquired.
"Alone, except for servants. There, that shirt's finished; I'll put it in front of the fire to air. And now I should think those cakes are ready."
Whilst Melina was eating the cake which had been promised her, Mrs. Jones continued to talk of Mr. Blackmore, and by and by she said:
"He's very interested in you, child; he told me so. He asked me to try and persuade your grandmother to send you to Sunday school, but I said I couldn't interfere; do you think she'd let you go?"
"I dare say she would, but I don't want to go, Mrs. Jones."
"Why not, Melina?"
The little girl glanced expressively over her shabby frock. "I've nothing fit to wear," she admitted in a low voice, her cheeks flushing; "I haven't any Sunday clothes. If I went to Sunday school just as I am now the other children would laugh at me, and I hate being laughed at."
"But is it necessary for you to go just as you are now?" asked Mrs. Jones. "Your frock's a good deal the worse for wear certainly, but you might darn that rent in the skirt and sponge those spots out of the bodice; and I suppose you could comb your hair and make it a bit tidy, couldn't you? You have such pretty hair, Melina—that is, it would be if you kept it in better condition," she added.
Melina made no response, but the colour in her cheeks deepened.
"It is not your fault that you have to wear shabby clothes," Mrs. Jones proceeded, "but it certainly is your fault if you're untidy and dirty. Now, do try what soap and water will do towards improving your appearance, and don't take it amiss my speaking like this. I think maybe I ought to have done so before. I really felt ashamed of myself when I had to admit to Mr. Blackmore that you and your grandmother had lived next door to me for years and how little I knew about you; it came across me that I must be a poor sort of Christian, and that I'd neglected my duty towards my neighbours."
"Do you think it would please Mr. Blackmore if I went to Sunday school?" Melina asked abruptly.
"Yes, I am sure it would," was the confident response.
"Then I'll go. I'll go whether Gran's willing to let me or not."
"No, no," said Mrs. Jones hastily; "Mr. Blackmore would not wish you to go if Mrs. Berryman forbade you to, but I don't expect she'll do that."
"No," the little girl agreed after a brief reflexion, "I don't expect she will; I'll speak to her about it to-night."
Having finished her cake, Melina rose to leave; but at that minute heavy footsteps were heard in the yard outside the back door, and a few seconds later a big, powerful-looking man, wearing clay-stained garments, appeared upon the scene. This was Mrs. Jones' husband. He worked as a clay cutter, often in the pits underground, and earned good wages. He was a quiet, easy-going man, and he smiled very kindly at Melina, as he generally did when he saw her, which was not often.
"Why, 'tis the little maid next door!" he said in some surprise; "now, don't you go because I've come. Why, bless me, Mary!" he exclaimed, addressing his wife, "she's growing the very image of her father!"
"Did you know my father, Mr. Jones?" questioned Melina eagerly.
"To be sure I did," was the response.
"I wish you'd tell me about him," said the little girl; "Gran never will. Did you know him well?"
"Yes," assented Mr. Jones, "at one time. He and I went to school together, and we started work, I remember, on the same day; but he didn't stick to the clay work long, and then he went to London—to better himself, he said. I never saw him after he left Hawstock."
"Do you know where he is now?" Melina inquired. Then, as Mr. Jones shook his head, she added wistfully, "I do wish he'd come back. Did you know my mother too, Mr. Jones?"
"No," he replied, "I never saw her; she was a Londoner, I've heard."
"She died when I was born," said Melina sadly; "Gran told me that. Oh dear, there's Gran calling me in our yard. I must go!" And with a hurried "Good morning" to husband and wife she hastened away.
That evening Melina asked and received her grandmother's permission to attend Sunday school; but she did not go the next day, because she had some preparations to make. During the ensuing week she darned and cleaned her frock, and washed and combed her hair. She found great difficulty in getting the tangles out of her curls, but she succeeded at last; and the afternoon of the following Sunday found her starting for Sunday school, if not well dressed, at any rate tidy and clean.
She had nearly reached her destination when she heard light, hurrying footsteps behind her, and a minute later she was joined by a little girl of about her own age called Agnes Brown, a schoolfellow of hers. Agnes was a nice-looking child, not pretty, but the owner of a pair of honest grey eyes and a bright smile; she was always well clad, and to-day she was wearing a pretty dark-blue jacket which covered her all over, and a dark-blue felt hat to match.
"Where are you going?" she inquired, as she walked on by her schoolfellow's side.
"To Sunday school," Melina answered, adding with a sudden burst of confidence: "I've never been before and I don't want to go now; I'm only going to please some one who's been kind to me."
"Well, you can come with me," said Agnes; "I'll ask my teacher to have you in her class, and then you can sit next me, you know."
Thus it was arranged. Melina had not had much intercourse with Agnes Brown previously, but Agnes had never laughed at her or teased her like many of her schoolfellows were in the habit of doing, and therefore she was pleased to sit next to her in school, and quite enjoyed the afternoon; for their teacher, a pretty young lady called Miss Seymour, possessed the power of chaining her pupils' attention, and Melina, like the rest, listened to her with the greatest interest.
"You'll come again next Sunday, won't you?" Agnes said, as, school over, she and Melina left together; but at that minute another girl joined them, and whispered to her just loud enough for Melina to hear:
"Come with me, Agnes. You surely don't mean to be seen walking with Melina Berryman? Let her go on alone."
Melina did not hear Agnes' response, but she had heard enough, and, quickening her footsteps, she hastened to get ahead of the others. She had not gone far, however, before Agnes overtook her.
"Don't be in such a hurry," Agnes said; "you know my way is the same as yours for a bit, and I want to talk to you."
"I'd rather be by myself, thank you," Melina replied untruthfully; "I'm not going to walk with you to—to disgrace you." This was said with an air of pride, not humility.
"What nonsense!" Agnes cried, flushing, and looking embarrassed.
"It's not nonsense! I know I'm dreadfully shabby, and—" Melina paused, with quivering lips and a lump in her throat.
Agnes could not contradict her, but she was a tactful little girl with a very kind heart, so she said:
"I was thinking just now how nice you had made yourself look—I was indeed. I had no idea before to-day that you had such lovely hair; what have you done to it? How fine and glossy it looks! Does it curl like that naturally?"
"Yes," Melina answered, a slow pleased smile creeping over her face. "I haven't done anything but wash and comb it," she explained; "I never used to take any trouble with it."
After that they went on together amicably, and Agnes suggested that they should meet on their way to Sunday school on the following Sunday afternoon, which Melina agreed to do, and when they separated they were on the best of terms with each other.
"Well, and how did you like Sunday school?" Mrs. Berryman said when her granddaughter reached home. She was seated by the kitchen fire—a mere handful of coals—looking most ill-tempered.
"Very well," Melina answered shortly.
"Who was your teacher?" the old woman inquired.
"Miss Seymour—such a pretty young lady, Gran! She talked to us so nicely." Melina's face brightened at the remembrance.
"Oh, she talked nicely, did she? What about?"
"About Jesus—how He came upon earth to save sinners—"
"Oh, I've heard all that before!" interrupted Mrs. Berryman.
"It's very wonderful, isn't it?" Melina said thoughtfully.
"That He should have died for sinners. Miss Seymour said He prayed even for His enemies—people who had served Him badly and insulted Him. Only fancy that!"
Receiving no response to this remark, the little girl went upstairs to take off her hat and jacket, humming the tune of the hymn she had heard sung at the Sunday school that afternoon. It had been "There is a green hill far away," and it had made a deep impression upon her. One verse she remembered word for word, and she thought she would try to sing it, which she accordingly did.
So sang Melina. Her grandmother heard her with surprise, and muttered to herself:
"What's taken to the child? I never knew her sing before."
"MOTHER," said Agnes Brown one fine spring afternoon on her return from school, "I wish you would let me ask Melina Berryman to tea next Saturday. I'm sure she'd like to come."
"Very well," Mrs. Brown agreed, "I shall be very pleased to see her, poor little girl."
Mother and daughter were together in the comfortable parlour of their home, which was a small house in a side street of the town, a street called Gladstone Street. The Brown family comprised father, mother, and three children, the eldest of whom was Agnes, the other two being boys. Mr. Brown was a junior clerk employed in the booking-office at the railway station; and his wife before her marriage had been a dressmaker, so that she was able to make all her own and Agnes' clothing, which allowed them to be better dressed than they could otherwise have been. The Browns had only been living in Hawstock since the previous autumn, when Mr. Brown had been shifted from a town some distance away to his present post; consequently they had few acquaintances in the place. Mrs. Brown had never yet seen Melina, but she had heard from her little daughter that she lived with an old grandmother who was anything but kind to her.
"Thank you, mother," Agnes said. She hesitated, then proceeded: "I wonder what you will think of Melina and if you will like her. You will say she is very shabby, I know. She's grown out of her winter jacket, and it's so tight for her that she can hardly fasten it; and she wears such a dreadful old hat."
"No doubt her grandmother is very poor and cannot afford her good clothes," remarked Mrs. Brown; "you have never been to her home, have you?"
Agnes shook her head. "No," she replied, "and I'm sure I don't want to, because they say at school that Mrs. Berryman is a wicked old woman."
"Wicked!" Mrs. Brown looked rather startled. "What do you mean, Agnes?" she inquired.
"I hardly know," the little girl admitted, "but I believe she drinks—"
"Oh dear, dear!" broke in Mrs. Brown.
"Melina can't help it if she does, mother," Agnes cried hastily.
"No, poor child, of course not. If this is true I am very, very sorry for her, but, on second thoughts, perhaps before you ask her here to tea I had better make some inquiries about her grandmother. I'll speak to your father, and ask him to find out what is known about her."
"Oh, mother!" exclaimed Agnes, looking very disappointed. "If you find out that it is true—that Melina's grandmother does drink—what then? You won't want me to give up going to Sunday school with her, will you? No one has anything to do with her but me, except to make fun of her."
Agnes had been attracted to Melina at first because she had pitied her, but there was a warmer feeling in her heart for her than pity now. During the last two months she and Melina had attended Sunday school together regularly, and a friendship had sprung up between them which surprised their other schoolfellows.
"You may be sure I shall not stop your going to Sunday school with Melina," Mrs. Brown said, "but do not ask her to tea till I have spoken to your father. You see, my dear, if she comes here you will probably be invited to her home afterwards, and—"
"Oh no, I don't think so!" Agnes interposed; "Melina says her grandmother never sees anyone except on business."
"On business? What business?"
"I don't know—Melina doesn't know either."
Mrs. Brown was about to put more questions, but at that minute her little sons returned from school, and no more was said about Mrs. Berryman then. Later in the evening she asked her husband to try to find out all he could about the old woman, which he accordingly did, with the result that they both felt regretful that an intimacy should have sprung up between their little daughter and Melina Berryman.
"You say that Mrs. Berryman is addicted to bouts of drunkenness, and that she is supposed to carry on business as a money-lender!" exclaimed Mrs. Brown, in accents of dismay, when she had heard all her husband had to tell. "How shocking! And I thought she was so poor!"
Mr. Brown shook his head. "At any rate she is able to lend money, I am informed," he said, then went on to explain. "She does business in this way: she will lend sixpence on Monday and have it repaid to her with another sixpence added to it at the end of the week. That's usury, of course, and, as you may imagine, her dealings are all with very poor people. I'm told she's a grasping, conscienceless old woman; and I can't help wishing that Agnes had not taken this fancy to her grandchild."
"I wish the same," Mrs. Brown answered, with a troubled sigh, "for we know what Agnes is—very affectionate and kind-hearted; she wants me to ask Melina here to tea on Saturday, but—" She broke off and looked at her husband doubtfully.
Mr. Brown looked doubtful too. He realised that Mrs. Berryman's granddaughter could not, by any possibility, be well brought up at home; but at the same time he felt that they ought not to allow that fact to prejudice them against her.
"I see what it is," he said at length; "you don't know whether or not we ought to allow a friendship between our little maid and this Melina. Well, can't you ask some one's advice upon this point?—some one who knows the child?"
Mrs. Brown's face brightened at this suggestion.
"I'll speak to Mr. Blackmore," she said; "he knows her. Agnes told me the other day that it was to please him that Melina first went to Sunday school, and that he always stops to talk to her when they meet."
Mr. Blackmore, who was doing the work of a curate in the way of visiting in the parish, had called on the Browns a few days previously. Mrs. Brown regretted that she had not thought of speaking of Melina Berryman to him then; but she might possibly meet him out of doors before very long, she reflected, in which case she would certainly do so.
"You cannot have Melina Berryman here to tea this Saturday," she told Agnes, "but I won't say that she shall not come a little later on."
With that Agnes had to be satisfied, but she looked and felt exceedingly disappointed.
On every occasion now when Mrs. Brown did her shopping she kept a look out for Mr. Blackmore, but she did not see him for some days. One afternoon, however, she was tempted by the bright spring weather to take a walk on the outskirts of the town, and, as she turned the corner which brought her to Jubilee Terrace, she saw Mr. Blackmore enter one of the cottages.
"I'll wait about and speak to him when he comes out," she thought, and proceeded to stroll up and down the pavement before the cottages. By and by she noticed a shabbily-clad little girl hurrying along towards her, followed by a group of small boys who were amusing themselves by laughing at her and calling her names.
Mrs. Brown paused, and the boys noticing the disapproval on her countenance, grew suddenly silent; but as soon as they had passed and believed her to be out of hearing, they commenced jeering at the little girl again, calling her "Saint Melina," evidently in the hope of provoking her to wrath.
"So that is Melina Berryman," Mrs. Brown said to herself; "what a shame of those boys to tease the poor child like that!"
She began to retrace her footsteps, intending to interfere; but at that instant the little girl reached her home, and, turning on the doorstep, faced her tormentors, her lips firmly closed, though her eyes were full of tears and her cheeks crimson. For a minute she looked at the boys steadily, in silence; the next she opened the door and disappeared within the cottage, whilst the boys, seeing Mrs. Brown intended to reprimand them, immediately made off.
Mrs. Brown stood outside the closed door of the Berrymans' cottage, which was next to the one which she had seen Mr. Blackmore enter, and waited. Presently a blue-eyed, fair-haired boy came whistling round the corner of the street. He glanced curiously at Mrs. Brown as he approached her, and, apparently thinking that she was waiting for admittance, volunteered the information that if Mrs. Berryman did not wish to be seen she would not answer the door however loudly anyone knocked.
"Then you know her—and her granddaughter?" questioned Mrs. Brown.
"I know Melina," he answered, "but I've never spoken to old Mrs. Berryman and don't want to. Melina's not a bad sort altogether—lately she's quite turned over a new leaf, since she took to going to Sunday school to please the little gentleman."
"The little gentleman?" Mrs. Brown repeated inquiringly.
"That's what she always calls Mr. Blackmore—the new lay-helper. She's changed a lot since she knew him. The boys about call her 'Saint Melina' now, because when they tease her, instead of answering back and using dreadful language like she used to do, she won't speak a word. I suppose you know Melina Berryman, ma'am?"
"No, but I mean to," Mrs. Brown replied, suddenly coming to that determination. "I'm waiting here to see Mr. Blackmore, who's gone in next door," she explained.
"That's where I live," the boy informed her; "I'm called William Jones. Have you been waiting long?"
"About ten minutes, I should think. But do tell me all you know about Melina Berryman, there's a good boy. I hope you don't tease her."
William Jones grew very red, and shuffled his feet uneasily. "I don't now," he replied, "because—well, I'm sorry for her; so you'd be if you heard her grandmother beating her sometimes. I can't say that Melina and I are friends though," he admitted candidly.
At this point the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Blackmore on the doorstep of the Jones' cottage. Mrs. Jones, who had opened the door for her visitor, retreated at the sight of a stranger, and Mr. Blackmore, immediately recognising Mrs. Brown, went and spoke to her, whilst William withdrew a little distance out of hearing.
Mrs. Brown explained to Mr. Blackmore that she had been waiting to see him and why, and after they had a long talk about Melina, the result of which was that when Mr. Blackmore moved on Mrs. Brown turned and knocked, rather timidly it must be admitted, upon Mrs. Berryman's door.
Several minutes passed, but no one appeared in response to the knock. Then Mrs. Brown knocked again, louder this time, and yet again. At length the door opened a few inches, and a harsh voice inquired who was there.
"My name is Brown," Mrs. Brown answered; "I wish to see Mrs. Berryman. May I speak to her for a minute?"
"I am Mrs. Berryman. Do you want me on business?"
"I want to ask you to allow your granddaughter to come to tea with my little girl on Saturday. My little girl is called Agnes Brown; she goes to Sunday school with your granddaughter."
The door opened wider, revealing Mrs. Berryman with Melina close behind her. The child's dark eyes were sparkling with expectation.
"Do let her come," Mrs. Brown went on persuasively; "you would like to, wouldn't you, my dear?" she questioned, smiling at Melina.
"Oh yes, yes!" the little girl cried. "Oh, Gran, let me go—do let me go!"
"You can if you like," the old woman said ungraciously; "you've more friends than I knew."
She turned away from the door as she spoke, and Melina coming forward, said very earnestly, with a grateful ring in her voice:
"How kind you are! just like Agnes! I was never invited out to tea before!"
WHEN William Jones had told Mrs. Brown that Melina had quite turned over a new leaf he had spoken nothing but the truth; for a softening influence was at work in her heart—the influence of God's love. Since she had made the acquaintance of the little gentleman Melina had felt less lonely and embittered, and, impelled by a sense of deep gratitude towards him on account of his evident good will for her, she had continued to attend Sunday school, and had there been taught more of the Saviour whom Mr. Blackmore had spoken of as the one perfect Friend. At first the story of Christ's life on earth and His love for sinners had appeared to her a beautiful romance, too wonderful to be credited—that anyone could care for her enough to die for her had sounded incredible; but slowly the amazing truth was being revealed to her. The circumstances of her life had not changed, yet she herself was different; for she was learning to have faith in Jesus, and a new, sweet sense of happiness was creeping into her heart.
It was on a Wednesday when Melina received Mrs. Brown's invitation, and on Friday evening Mrs. Berryman called her into her bedroom, and, pointing to a brown-paper parcel on a chair, told her to open it and see what was inside. Melina did so, and then uttered a little cry of mingled astonishment and pleasure.
"Oh, Gran!" she exclaimed, "a new frock!—for me?"
"Yes," nodded Mrs. Berryman; "I bought it ready-made, but it's quite new."
"I see it is." The frock in question was of cheap, coarse blue serge, and could not have cost more than a few shillings, but Melina's face was expressive of the greatest delight as she fingered it. "Thank you, Gran," she said earnestly; "I may wear it to-morrow, mayn't I?"
Mrs. Berryman assented. "You want it badly enough," she admitted; "I didn't notice the frock you are wearing was so shabby till I saw you in the sunshine yesterday. It costs something to clothe a growing girl like you," she added grudgingly.
Melina flushed, and thought of the money hidden in the chimney. She proceeded to try on her new frock in silence; it fitted her very nicely, and a smile lit up her thin little face as she looked down over herself and noted the fact.
"Agnes will hardly know me to-morrow," she said with a pleased laugh; "she's never seen me anything but shabby yet. I never had a really new frock before." Hitherto, poor child, she had always been clad in second-hand clothes.
"Oh, Gran," she went on, "I wish—oh, I do wish I could have a new hat too! It wouldn't cost much—just a cheap one, I mean. I saw a sailor hat, with a dark-blue ribbon, ticketed 'sevenpence three-farthings' in a shop in the town the other day; it would look so nice with this frock."
"Sevenpence three-farthings? That means eightpence. Let me see your old hat."
Melina fetched it, and watched anxiously whilst her grandmother examined it. Perhaps Mrs. Berryman had not realised that it was so disgracefully shabby as it was, for she quickly laid it aside and, taking out her purse, presented Melina with a shilling.
"There, child, you can buy the hat you fancy," she said, "and you can keep the change."
For a minute Melina almost doubted that she had heard aright; then she gave a little gasp and cried quite excitedly:
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Gran! Why, I shall have fourpence after buying the hat! Do you know what I shall do? I shall begin to save towards buying a Bible."
"Towards buying a Bible?" echoed Mrs. Berryman in great astonishment.
"Yes," assented Melina. "Agnes Brown has one of her own—her mother gave it to her as soon as she had learnt to read. The Bible is God's word, you know, and it is full of beautiful stories—true stories; and it tells all about Jesus, too—"
"Yes, yes," interposed Mrs. Berryman, "everyone knows that."
She took her keys from her pocket as she spoke, and unlocked an old box, covered with wall-paper, which stood in a niche near the fireplace. Then she lifted the lid of the box, which, Melina saw, held a lot of faded old garments and several books. One of the books, a small, thick, leather-covered volume, Mrs. Berryman selected from the rest and handed to her granddaughter, remarking as she did so:
"There's no need for you to think of buying a Bible; you can have this one. It's yours by right, for it belonged to your mother."
"To my mother!" Melina took the sacred volume eagerly, and, opening it, read on the fly-leaf, in a plain, round handwriting, "Melina Mead, her book." She glanced at her grandmother inquiringly.
"Mead was your mother's maiden name," Mrs. Berryman explained. "Your father gave me the Bible to keep for you; I'd nigh forgotten it till just now. That's your mother's writing on the fly-leaf, I believe. There's her name, isn't there, and a text?—her favourite text, I mind your father said it was."
"'Him that cometh to Me I will in nowise cast out,'" Melina read aloud. "Oh," she exclaimed, "she must have been a Christian, my mother! See how her Bible has been used! Some of the pages are quite worn! Yes, she must have been a Christian, I feel sure of it!"
"I don't know about that," Mrs. Berryman said; "I never saw your mother. Your father married her when he was living in London, and she died a year later when you were born—you've heard me say so before."
"But didn't father ever tell you what she was like?" Melina questioned wistfully.
"He told me that she was as good as she was pretty," Mrs. Berryman answered, rather impatiently; "but there, child, don't bother me with any more questions. Take your book and go."
The little girl moved obediently towards the door, saying as she went:
"Thank you for the shilling, Gran. Oh, I do hope that sailor hat hasn't been sold!"
The sailor hat had not been sold, and the following morning Melina became its purchaser. She felt very happy and light-hearted as she carried it home in a paper bag. On reaching Jubilee Terrace she found Mrs. Jones cleaning the doorstep of her cottage, and she stopped to speak to her, really to allow her a peep at the new hat.
"It's very pretty and neat," Mrs. Jones remarked, after she had looked into the paper bag; "to my mind it's just what you want."
Melina nodded. "I've a new frock too," she said confidentially, "and this afternoon I'm going to tea with a friend of mine called Agnes Brown. If you look out of the window at three o'clock you'll see me start."
"Poor child," Mrs. Jones muttered to herself, when the little girl had left her, "it's a novelty for her to have anything new. How bright she looks! She has certainly improved very much of late!"
Punctually at three o'clock Melina started for Gladstone Street, which was nearly half an hour's walk from Jubilee Terrace. Mrs. Jones, from her parlour window, waved her hand and nodded to her; and at the corner of the terrace she met William Jones in company with a friend. She noticed that the two boys stared at her very hard, and William was surprised into remarking on her personal appearance.
"Why, Melina," he cried, "what a swell you look! Where are you off?"
The little girl coloured, but not with displeasure. "I'm going out to tea," was her response.
Her way took her past South View. The garden in front of the house was gay with spring flowers, and she lingered to admire a clump of golden daffodils which grew near the gate. She was moving on when she heard her name called behind her, and, looking back, saw the slim, upright figure of the little gentleman.
"Good afternoon, Melina," he said; "were you admiring my flowers?"
"Yes," she assented, adding half apologetically, fearful that she had been guilty of a breach of good manners, "just for a minute."
"Wait, and I will give you a nosegay."
"Oh, sir, how kind of you!"
She stood at the gate and watched whilst he gathered some blooms of narcissi and daffodils, and thanked him gratefully when he returned to her and put the flowers into her hands.
"May I do what I like with them?" she asked, her face aglow with pleasure.
"Certainly; they are your own," he replied, smiling. "Perhaps you would like to give some to your friends, the Browns, as you are going to tea with them?"
"Oh yes! That was just what I was thinking! But how did you know that—" She broke off, looking at him in a puzzled fashion.
"How did I know where you are going? Because I met Mrs. Brown this morning, and she told me she expected you to tea this afternoon. I hope you will have a pleasant time. I am so glad you are making friends, Melina. Now, run along or you'll be late. Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon," Melina returned, "and thank you very, very much."
She walked on quickly now, and did not stop again until she reached the Browns' house in Gladstone Street. There she found Agnes and Mrs. Brown on the look out for her, and was welcomed most cordially by them both. She retained a few of the flowers Mr. Blackmore had given her, for herself; but the rest she gave to her hostess, and subsequently they graced the centre of the tea-table.
Melina was rather shy at first, but not for long, and she had become quite at home by the time Mr. Brown and his two little sons appeared upon the scene, when they all had tea. Melina enjoyed her tea, which was served in a fashion to which she was wholly unaccustomed, for Mrs. Berryman never cared whether the cloth was clean or otherwise—indeed, she often dispensed with it altogether.
Here, however, the cloth was clean and uncrumpled, and the tea things laid with care; whilst the wooden bread platter was spotless, and the butter was in a pretty glass dish. Before the meal commenced Melina was surprised to see her companions bow their heads reverently, whilst Mr. Brown thanked God for the meal they were about to take: she had never heard grace said before.
"You must come and see us again, my dear," Mrs. Brown said a while later, when her little visitor was about to leave; "you would like to, wouldn't you?"
"Oh yes, please," Melina answered, her dark eyes meeting Mrs. Brown's with an expression of wondering gratitude in them. "I can't imagine why you are so kind to me!" she added, thinking that she liked Agnes' mother very much.
Mrs. Brown did not know what response to make to this. She put an arm around Melina and gave her a warm, impulsive kiss; but, instead of returning it, Melina drew back and looked at her in astonishment.
"What is the matter?" inquired Mrs. Brown; "don't you like to be kissed?"
"Oh yes," the little girl replied quickly, fearful of being misunderstood, "but I—I am so surprised. You see, I can't remember that anyone ever kissed me before."
"Oh, poor child!"
"Gran never has—no, never! But I don't want to be kissed by Gran! You—oh, I do like you! I wish you were my mother, that I do!"
"Your own mother is dead, is she not?"
"Yes. If she had lived she would have loved me, wouldn't she?—just like you love Agnes?"
"Just like that."
Melina sighed. "I wish she had not died," she said, with trembling lips and a sudden rush of tears to her eyes.
"You must not wish that, my dear. God took her, and all He does is for the best; you will, I hope, realise that some day. Now good-bye. Agnes and the boys will go part way home with you—they will like the walk."
Mrs. Brown kissed her little visitor again, and this time the caress was returned.
"Good-bye," Melina whispered, in a voice which was tremulous with deep feeling; "oh, you don't know how much I shall look forward to coming again!"
ONE afternoon, a week or so after Melina's visit to Gladstone Street, on returning from school at half-past four o'clock the little girl was met at the front door of the cottage by her grandmother and pulled roughly into the kitchen.
"Oh, Gran, don't!" she cried imploringly; "you're hurting me!" Then, as Mrs. Berryman's grasp of her shoulder did not relax, she gave herself a sudden twist and freed herself. "What have I done to make you angry again?" she demanded.
"You've been telling tales to that woman next door," Mrs. Berryman said wrathfully,—"telling tales of me—your grandmother! You wicked, ungrateful girl! Mrs. Jones had the impertinence to stop me in the street just now and take me to task for boxing your ears last night when you smashed that teacup; you must have complained to her or she wouldn't have known!"
"I did tell her about it," Melina admitted; "I was in the yard—crying—and she spoke to me over the wall. I didn't mean to break the teacup, it slipped from my fingers when I was wiping it; and you hit me so hard that my head's been aching ever since. You had no right to do it—no, you hadn't! It was shameful of you!" She spoke defiantly, but took care to keep out of her grandmother's reach.
"I've the right to do as I please where you're concerned," Mrs. Berryman declared, "and so I let Mrs. Jones know!"
"I hope you weren't rude to her," Melina said, her voice betraying anxiety; "she's been very kind to me lately, and she was kind to you when you were ill. Don't you remember what a nice custard she made you, and—"
"We've no need of her kindness," Mrs. Berryman broke in; "and look here, my girl, if I ever find out that you've been telling tales to her again, I'll—I'll beat you as long as I've strength to hold a stick!"
The old woman looked as though she was quite capable of putting her threat into action, and Melina, cowed and trembling, slipped out of the kitchen and ran upstairs to her own room, her heart beating with mingled indignation and fear; for she saw that her grandmother had been drinking and was, in consequence, in a quarrelsome mood. A short while later she heard the front door open and shut, and guessed that Mrs. Berryman had gone out—most probably to get more drink.
The little girl now went downstairs, and ascertained, as she had expected, that she was locked into the cottage. She did not mind that, but what she did mind was the fact that she could not find anything to eat. Tears of self-pity filled her eyes, for she was hungry.
"It's too bad of Gran to go off like this," she muttered; "I suppose she means to keep me without tea for punishment for telling Mrs. Jones how hard she hit me last night. I wonder what Mrs. Jones said to her—I should have liked to have heard."
She went upstairs to her room again, and, taking her mother's Bible from the drawer in which she kept it, sat down on the bed, opening the book at random. The first words she read were these: "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love."
Melina read no further, but closed the book and sat thinking. "I suppose real Christians always love one another," she reflected, "and are kind to everybody. There's the little gentleman—he's a Christian, I know; and Mrs. Jones—I think she's one; and Agnes Brown and her mother—ah, yes, they're Christians too! I've wondered why they're all so kind to me; of course it's because they take Jesus for their example. Miss Seymour told us last Sunday we all ought to do that, but I can't—not altogether! I can't forgive people who're rude to me, though I can hold my tongue and not answer back; and—I can't forgive Gran—she's a cruel old woman to serve me like this! Very likely she won't be back till quite late, and she won't care whether I'm hungry or not."
Her lips quivered, and a few miserable tears rolled down her cheeks; but a minute later she started to her feet and ran to the window, for someone had flung a handful of gravel against the glass. Looking out she saw William Jones in the yard of the adjoining cottage; he was gazing up at her with a broad smile on his face, so, flinging up the window, she addressed him in anything but a friendly tone.
"William Jones, was it you who did that?" she demanded, and, without giving him time to reply, went on: "If you'd broken the glass there'd have been a dreadful row with Gran—she'd have made you pay for it; but there, I dare say you'd have gone away and said it wasn't you—"
"Oh, come now," the boy broke in, growing very red and looking indignant, "it's too bad of you to make out I'd behave like that! What you must think of me! I don't tell lies, Melina Berryman. If I'd broken your window I should have owned up, but the handful of gravel I threw couldn't have hurt."
"Why did you do it?" Melina asked.
"Because I wanted to speak to you. I guessed you might be up there, and I knew your grandmother was out, for I met her not ten minutes ago walking towards the town. I say, are you locked in?"
"Yes," the little girl assented, "and I don't suppose Gran'll be back for ages. The worst of it is she hasn't left me anything to eat."
"What! Oh, now that's too bad! Shameful, I call it! Do you mean to say there's no food in the house?"
"Oh yes! But I can't get at it—even the bread loaf's locked away."
William Jones' face expressed the sympathy he felt; seeing which Melina forgot how often he had teased her in the past, and allowed her heart to soften towards him.
"Never mind," she said, trying to speak cheerfully, though she did mind very much; "tell me what you want to speak to me about."
"Oh, I was only going to ask you if you like oranges," he replied; "do you?" Then, as she nodded, he continued: "They 're very nice and sweet now, and I bought a couple of beauties on my way home from school; one I've eaten, the other I've kept for you. Stand back!"
The little girl obeyed, and the next moment an orange, flung with unerring aim, came whizzing through the open window and rolled across the floor. She seized it, and returned to the window with a beaming countenance and sparkling eyes.
"Thank you," she said, with an unusually gracious smile. "I shan't mind going without my tea now. It looks a lovely orange, and what a size it is!"
"Well, eat it, and see if it's as good as it looks."
The boy watched her peel the orange and divide it into flakes. She ate one flake slowly and pronounced it delicious, then the rest, and when the last was gone, thanked him again. He had not expected her to be as grateful as she evidently was.
"Oh, don't say any more," he said; "I'm glad I thought of keeping it for you. I was half afraid that you wouldn't have it—"
"I was so hungry," Melina interposed, as though that fact explained the readiness with which she had accepted his gift. "I—" She paused abruptly, remembering the occasion on which, having made a similar confession to him, he had said he was sorry and she had retorted that more likely he was glad. How very rude she had been! "I can't think why you should have bothered about me!" she cried impulsively, "I've been horrid to you sometimes."
"And I've been horrid to you," he admitted; "it's always been on my mind about that tuppence you had to spend—"
"Oh," she broke in, "I'll tell you now! It wasn't my tuppence—it was the little gentleman's. He gave it to me. I—I oughtn't to have let you believe it was mine."
He was silent for a minute. "Well, it wasn't quite straight of you," he admitted. "Isn't the little gentleman, as you call him, a good sort?"
"Indeed he is!"
"Everyone who knows him likes him. Have you heard what he's going to do on Good Friday evening?"
"He's going to hold a kind of service in the town hall. There'll be a magic-lantern showing Bible pictures, and there'll be hymns sung and an address by Mr. Blackmore himself. Wouldn't you like to see the pictures?"
"Yes; but there's no chance of that, I'm afraid. I suppose I should have to pay—"
"Oh no! It will be a free entertainment. Why don't you go? Be in good time and then you'll be able to get a seat well to the front—that's what I intend to do. I advise you to do the same."
"Perhaps Gran won't let me; it'll just depend what sort of temper she's in. Good Friday? Why, that's next week."
Melina leaned her elbows on the window-sill, and rested her chin on her clasped hands. She was finding her conversation with William Jones interesting, and was glad that he seemed inclined to prolong it. By and by he told her he regretted that he used to tease her, and that he meant to try and prevail upon the other boys in the terrace to let her alone in future.
"Don't you interfere," she replied quickly; "I can hold my own ground."
This was spoken in her old curt manner, but her voice softened as she proceeded: "It's very nice of you, though, to want to take my part, but I think you'd better not. Do you know why the boys have taken to calling me 'Saint Melina'?"
He nodded. "Yes, because you don't abuse them and show your temper to them like you used to; they know you go to Sunday school now, and they say you've turned pious. I shouldn't mind being called 'Saint Melina' if I were you."
"I think you would—if you knew you were being mocked."
At that moment Mrs. Jones' voice was heard calling to her son to take a letter to post for her, and, with a friendly nod to Melina, the boy went to do her bidding.
Mrs. Berryman did not return for some hours later, not until past nine o'clock. Melina was still in her own room when she heard her grandmother come in; but the old woman called to her immediately, and she hastened downstairs.
"Here I am, Gran," she said, as she entered the kitchen where Mrs. Berryman had already sunk into a chair; "shall I get supper now?"
"Supper? No. I don't want any," was the response.
"But—but I do," Melina ventured to say; "you know I haven't had any tea."
Her grandmother laughed harshly. "It will do you no harm to fast," she said; "it will tame your spirit, Melina. Ah, ha! you won't be in such a hurry to complain of me to Mrs. Jones again! However, you can have some bread and cheese now if you like; I suppose I mustn't starve you."
She rose unsteadily, unlocked the corner cupboard, and cut her granddaughter a thick slice of bread and a small bit of cheese. Melina took this frugal supper in silence, thankful to get it, whilst Mrs. Berryman, having resumed her chair, fell into a doze, from which she presently awoke with a start.
"I'm tired and shall go to bed," she muttered thickly, and, rising, she rambled out of the room. Melina heard her slowly mount the stairs and enter her bedroom. Silence followed, which remained unbroken.
Ten minutes later, having finished her supper, the little girl went upstairs herself; but before going to her own room she listened at her grandmother's door. The sound of stertorous breathing fell upon her ears, and, opening the door noiselessly, she glanced inside. A candle was burning on a chair close to the bed, and Mrs. Berryman, fully dressed, was lying on the bed in a heavy sleep. Melina did not disturb her; but she tiptoed across the room and put out the candle, then beat a hasty retreat.
"How very careless of Gran to have left her candle alight," she thought, "and so near her bed too! I must really tell her about it in the morning. If she doesn't mind, one of these days, when she's not herself, she'll set the place on fire!"
But when the morning came, Mrs. Berryman was in such a bad temper that Melina was afraid to mention the matter to her, and decided to hold her peace.
"She'd say I had no business in her room," she reflected; "no, on second thoughts, perhaps I'd better not speak of it. I dare say she'll never leave her candle burning like that again."
WHEN Melina told her grandmother of the service which was to be held by Mr. Blackmore on Good Friday evening in the town hall, and asked permission to attend it, the old woman answered, "No, certainly not"; but on hearing that there would be no charge for admission, she said, "Well, if there'll be nothing to pay, I don't mind your going. By the way, who's this Mr. Blackmore?"
Melina had not previously mentioned her acquaintance with the little gentleman to her grandmother, so her response was a decided surprise to the old woman.
"A friend of mine, Gran—a very nice gentleman who's come to live at South View. He helps the vicar, and—"
"Oh! the lay-helper!" interposed Mrs. Berryman. "He was pointed out to me in the town the other day—a thin little chap who wears glasses. A friend of yours, is he, eh?" She broke into a sarcastic laugh.
"Yes, he is, Gran—really. I've known him months now—since January. He was very kind to me once—when you were ill and sent me to buy some groceries. Coming home I—I dropped a packet of tea, and he—Mr. Blackmore—gave me the money to buy more, and since that, when we've met, he has always spoken—sometimes we've had quite long talks together. I like him so much; he is a real nice little gentleman."
"And it's he who's going to hold this service on Good Friday?" questioned Mrs. Berryman.
Melina assented. "There's to be a magic-lantern," she explained; "did you ever see one, Gran?"
"Yes. What time does the service commence?"
"At six o'clock, and it'll be over by eight. Agnes Brown and her brothers are going with their mother and father, and William Jones is going, and—"
"And I've half a mind to go myself," broke in Mrs. Berryman; "I haven't seen a magic-lantern for years. I wonder, though, if there'll be a collection?"
"I haven't heard that there is to be," responded Melina, who, since her conversation with William Jones, had made full inquiries about the forthcoming service.
The little girl was not quite pleased at the prospect of her grandmother's company on Good Friday evening; she felt she would much rather be by herself, but of course she did not say so. Perhaps it would be wet on Good Friday, she reflected, and in that case her grandmother would in all probability elect to remain at home, for the town hall was some distance from Jubilee Terrace.
But Good Friday, when it came, was a perfect spring day, sunny and mild, with a foretaste of summer in the air, and a quarter to six o'clock in the evening found Mrs. Berryman and her granddaughter arriving at the town hall together. They procured seats in a very good position for both seeing and hearing; and then Melina looked about her trying to find the Browns. By and by she caught sight of them, and proceeded to call her grandmother's attention to them.
"Look, Gran," she said in an eager whisper, "there are the Browns—a few rows in front of us, on the opposite side of the hall. Mrs. Brown's looking at us now. She's nodded to me, and I think she's trying to nod to you."
"Hush, child!" admonished Mrs. Berryman; nevertheless she looked at Mrs. Brown, and returned her smiling recognition with a rather awkward nod.
A few minutes later Melina discovered William Jones, seated well to the front; and after that she picked out several of her schoolfellows.
Before six o'clock the hall had become crowded. Most of the people present were of the working classes, many of whom appeared well-to-do, whilst others showed signs of great poverty; and some there were who, like Mrs. Berryman, never went to places of worship, and had been drawn there because they wanted to see the magic-lantern, and would not lose the opportunity of being entertained for nothing.
"I should think it must be nearly six o'clock," Melina said at length. "Oh!" she cried a minute later, "there's the little gentleman!"
Unobserved by her, Mr. Blackmore had entered the hall and mounted the platform, to the front of which he now stepped to address the assembly.
"My friends," he began, as the whispering which had been going on suddenly ceased and all eyes were fixed upon him, "to-night I intend to show you some pictures representing scenes from the life of Jesus; but before I do so, I want you to join me in singing that hymn, familiar to most of us I expect, which commences, 'There is a green hill far away'; and, whilst we sing, let us in our hearts thank Him who for our sakes died on Mount Calvary, and think of that first Good Friday evening nearly nineteen hundred years ago."
With one accord the whole assembly rose, and Mr. Blackmore led the singing.
Melina now knew the hymn all through, and she lifted up her voice with the rest. To her great surprise her grandmother joined in the last verse. "Fancy Gran's singing!" she thought to herself.
The hymn concluded, Mr. Blackmore asked the people to be seated; and, whilst they were settling down, he moved to one side, and the gas was lowered.
The first pictures shown upon the screen, which stretched across the back of the platform, represented scenes from the early life of Jesus. The audience, with the keenest interest, saw the infant Saviour in His mother's arms, the wise men kneeling in worship before Him; saw Him, a young boy, teaching in the Temple, and, later, working at the carpenter's bench. Then they saw Him healing the sick, preaching on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and blessing little children; and at last, after Judas Iscariot had betrayed Him and Peter had denied Him, they saw Him standing in the judgment-hall before Pontius Pilate.
Mr. Blackmore had so far explained very fully the meaning of each picture, in such simple words as no one could fail to understand; but when the picture of the scene in the judgment-hall was replaced by one showing a distant hill, on the summit of which three crosses stood out plainly against the horizon, he merely said:
"The green hill far away, on the evening of the first Good Friday."
Melina drew a breath so deep that it was almost a sob. That morning she had read in her mother's Bible the account of the Crucifixion, so she knew exactly what the picture was meant to tell. She gazed at it through a mist of tears. Then all at once she became aware that her grandmother was strangely affected. The old woman was trembling, almost as though she was afraid.
"What is it, Gran?" Melina whispered anxiously; "are you ill?"
"No, child, no," was the response; "don't talk! Ah!" The exclamation was full of relief.
The picture on the screen had been withdrawn, and the gas turned up.
Mr. Blackmore now came to the front of the platform again.
"That is the last picture I have to show," he said, "and I want you to take the memory of it home with you to-night—I want you to think of Jesus, crucified on Mount Calvary, and to remember that it was for your salvation that He died there. You can say, each one of you, 'He died for me.' The hymn we have sung to-night says:"
"That is true—we are saved by His precious blood. He died on the cross that He might draw us to Himself. He wants you to go to Him—yes, all of you, even the most sinful. He has said, 'Him that cometh to Me I will in nowise cast out.' Oh, if there are any amongst you who have not found Him, go to Him to-night, trusting only in Him, and He will give you forgiveness for your sins and peace for your souls. The blood of Jesus Christ, the blood shed on Mount Calvary on that first Good Friday so long ago, cleanseth from all sin."
The little gentleman ceased speaking and stepped off the platform, whilst the vicar, who had been working the lantern from the centre of the hall, took his place and offered up a short earnest prayer, after which the evening hymn "Glory to Thee, my God, this night" was sung very heartily, and the assembly began to disperse.
Mrs. Berryman insisted on lingering till the hall was nearly empty, as she did not like to be pushed about in a crowd, she said, and the consequence was that Mr. Blackmore caught sight of her and Melina as they rose from their seats, and, leaving the vicar, to whom he had been talking, overtook them before they reached the door.
"I am so glad you came," he said, as he touched Melina on the arm to attract her attention; "did you like the pictures?"
"Oh yes, sir," she answered, "they were beautiful! I—this is my grandmother, sir," she added, as his glance turned to Mrs. Berryman.
He held out his hand to the old woman, who, rather reluctantly it appeared, shook hands with him.
"I have often thought that I should like to know you, Mrs. Berryman," he said kindly; "I have known your granddaughter some time, as I dare say she has told you?" He spoke inquiringly.
"Yes," the old woman assented.
"She was the first friend I made in Hawstock —I shall always remember that. You know I am helping the vicar in the parish? Yes. I wonder if I may call upon you some day? I am acquainted with your neighbour, Mrs. Jones—"
"I don't have anything to do with my neighbours," interposed Mrs. Berryman, in such a brusque manner that Melina blushed with shame; "I make it a rule to keep myself to myself." She spoke as though to do that was a virtue.
Mr. Blackmore's eyes, full of kindliness and good will, yet searching too, were fixed gravely on the old woman's lined countenance, reading its expression.
"I can never understand how anyone can do that," he remarked, "I am sure that I couldn't; but then I'm naturally a sociable disposition. Do you mean that you would rather I did not call upon you, then?"
Mrs. Berryman hesitated what response to give to this direct question. She glanced at Melina, who was looking at her appealingly, and, contrary to her custom, decided to show consideration for her granddaughter's feelings.
"I did mean that," she answered, "but if you like to call, sir, please do."
"Thank you," said the little gentleman.
He did not prolong the conversation further, but said "good night"; and after that Melina and her grandmother left the hall and turned their footsteps homewards. It was a lovely night, with a clear sky, bright with stars, and a soft breeze which was very refreshing.
"Now you know Mr. Blackmore, Gran," the little girl remarked; "what do you think of him?"
"I think he means well," Mrs. Berryman admitted; "he seems very earnest, and he evidently believes all he talked about to-night—about Jesus having died for our sakes."
"Oh yes!" Melina's voice was full of eagerness. "Are you glad you went with me?" she inquired.
"Didn't you like the pictures?"
"Well enough, but I wish now I hadn't gone to see them."
"Because I don't want Mr. Blackmore to call on me, and I had to say he might as he'd been kind to you. I don't want to have anything to do with strangers—I want to be left alone."
Melina thought it wise to make no response to this. She walked on by her grandmother's side in silence for a while, but presently she said:
"I'm so happy to-night, Gran, that I feel I must speak of it. My heart is very, very glad."
"I think it's because I've learnt to love Jesus," was the softly-spoken admission.
"Love Jesus?" echoed Mrs. Berryman, in amazement.
"Yes," the little girl said, a thrill of deep earnestness in her voice; "I really do love Him, and I'm going to be a Christian if I can." The eyes she raised, as she spoke, to her companion's face shone with a bright, steady light.
"Well," exclaimed her grandmother with emphasis, "this beats anything I ever heard in my life!"
"STOP! I say, wait for me, Melina!"
It was the afternoon following Good Friday, and Melina, who had been to do some errands for her grandmother, was on her way home. She glanced around at the sound of a familiar voice addressing her and saw William Jones, who was hurrying to overtake her. A moment later he reached her side.
"So you and your grandmother were at the town hall last night," he remarked, as they walked on together; "the pictures were fine, weren't they?"
"Oh yes!" Melina answered, "indeed they were! I liked them—all of them. I saw you in the hall, but I didn't know you noticed us. Gran would go with me."
"And you didn't want her, I suppose?" he suggested.
"Well, no," she admitted; "I would much rather have gone alone."
The boy nodded understandingly. "What are you going to do on Monday?" he inquired.
"Mother and father and I are going for an excursion to the seaside; we generally do on the Easter bank holiday."
"This year we're going to Hawmouth. If the weather's fine, and it promises to be, we shall have a rare good time, I expect. We shall take our dinner with us and have it on the beach, and our tea we shall have at a tea-shop, and get home to supper."
This seemed a delightful programme to Melina. "I've never been to the seaside," she said, with a faint regretful sigh.
"Never been to the seaside!" her companion echoed, in deepest amazement. "And Hawstock is only twelve miles from Hawmouth too!—only about a quarter of an hour's journey by train!"
"I know. I've often wondered if I could walk as far as that and back again in a day, but I'm afraid I couldn't."
"No, of course you couldn't; you mustn't think of trying."
"I don't now; but you can't imagine how I long for a sight of the sea. I've seen pictures of it in the picture shops in the town, and oh, it must be grand!"
William Jones nodded. "I wish you were going with us on Monday," he said, looking at her thoughtfully. "I wish—" He paused abruptly, and walked on in silence for a few minutes; then he began again: "I say, Melina, don't you wonder what's become of your father?"
"Yes, that I do! Gran won't tell me—perhaps she doesn't know herself."
"Perhaps not. Father says that he believes that he went abroad—to Canada. Maybe he's making a fortune, and one of these days he'll be coming home."
"Oh, I do hope he will!—that is, if he's a nice man like your father, William. But if he's making a fortune, don't you think he'd send home some money for me? He must know I'm a great expense to Gran."
"I suppose that's what Mrs. Berryman says—that you're a great expense to her; but I don't believe you are. Why, she spends hardly anything on you; it's very mean of her to be so screwy, especially when she could do so much better for you if she liked."
William Jones, who was quoting the opinion of his mother, looked quite indignant as he spoke. Melina made no response; she was recollecting the hoard of money she had discovered that Mrs. Berryman possessed.
"You see, your grandmother can't be really poor," the boy continued; "if she was, she couldn't lend money, that's certain."
"What do you mean?" the little girl inquired in response. "I don't believe Gran would lend money to anyone. I—well, I don't think she's kind enough to do that."
"Do you mean to say that you don't know—" William Jones broke off suddenly, then exclaimed: "Well, I never! You don't mean to say that she's kept it a secret from you?"
"Kept what a secret from me?" questioned Melina, thoroughly puzzled; "what is it I don't know?"
"That your grandmother's a money-lender. That's her business—to lend money. The idea of her keeping you in the dark about it! That shows she knows she's doing wrong."
"Is it wrong to lend money, then?" Melina asked. Her face was expressive of astonishment and incredulity. She thought that her grandmother valued money too much to lend it; but, supposing she did lend it, where was the harm?
"It's wrong if too much is charged for it," William Jones explained, amazed at his companion's ignorance. "Ah, I see you don't understand! It's like this—but don't you let on to Mrs. Berryman that I've been talking to you about her affairs. Promise me that."
The little girl gave the required promise without hesitation, and the boy continued:
"When your grandmother lends money, it's to very poor people, and for small amounts, and when they pay it back she makes them give her a great deal more than they borrowed—double sometimes. Now that isn't right, is it?"
"No, indeed," Melina returned, "of course it's not!"
"It's what is called usury," William Jones said, "and the person who does it is a usurer—a wicked person who only cares for making money and robs the poor."
"Oh!" cried Melina, very shocked. She was thinking of the wretched-looking creatures who so frequently called to see Mrs. Berryman, and were interviewed by the old woman in the parlour. She could not doubt but that her companion had spoken the truth.
"Mother says to rob folks of their money, as your grandmother does, is as bad as being a regular pickpocket," William Jones continued; "I heard her talking about it to father only yesterday, and he agreed with her. Really, Melina, your grandmother's a dreadful old woman, and it's no wonder, is it, that people—respectable people, I mean—don't care to have anything to do with her?"
"No," Melina responded, with a choke in her voice. Her face was white and set.
"Perhaps I ought not to have told you that Mrs. Berryman is a money-lender," the boy said, rather uneasily; "don't you trouble about it, you can't help it."
"No," Melina agreed, "but it's so—so shameful! I understand now why everyone's been so against me—it's been on account of Gran! Oh, now I know this, I don't think I can ever go to see the Browns again! Oh, suppose they should find out—"
"You may depend they know all about your grandmother," William Jones interposed, "or at any rate Mrs. Brown does. For certain Mr. Blackmore has told her."
"The little gentleman!" The hot colour rose to Melina's cheeks, then died away, leaving her paler than before. "Does he know?" she asked in a tremulous voice.
Her companion nodded. "Mother told him," he asserted; "he was very sorry to hear it, and—"
"But he is coming to see Gran!" Melina broke in; "if he knows that she is so wicked as you say she is, why does he want to have anything to do with her?"
The boy kept a puzzled silence for a few minutes whilst he considered this point, then a gleam of comprehension crossed his face.
"Because he's a Christian," he replied; "because the love of God's in his heart—that's what makes him so kind. Folks who've got the love of God in their hearts care for other folks even when they ain't good like themselves; they want to help 'em and make 'em better."
"You don't mean to say that you think the little gentleman could care anything about Gran?"
"Yes, I do."
"It says in the Bible, 'Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God,'" Melina said reflectively. "Are you a Christian, William Jones?" she inquired.
"Not much of one, I'm afraid," he answered, looking rather taken aback at her question.
"I'm not much of one either," she said; "I haven't been one at all very long."
At the corner of Jubilee Terrace they came upon a group of boys, who, the minute they caught sight of Melina, commenced to make disparaging remarks about her. William Jones stopped to remonstrate with them, whilst the little girl walked on. As she paused on the doorstep of her home, she heard a voice inside say:
"You shall have the money next week, Mrs. Berryman, indeed you shall! We've had so much sickness of late, and so many expenses, that—but whatever happens you shall have the money next week!"
An instant later the door opened from within, and a sad-faced young woman with a baby in her arms brushed past Melina and hurried away. Melina was standing looking after her when Mrs. Berryman came out of the parlour.
"What a dawdle you are, child!" the old woman said testily; "come in and shut the door." Then, as her granddaughter obeyed, she took her by the shoulder and pulled her, less roughly than usual, into the kitchen. "Humph! you don't look very well, as Mrs. Jones said," she observed; "I hope you aren't going to be ill."
"I feel quite well, Gran."
"That's right. You were always a thin, peaky little thing, as I told Mrs. Jones. I suppose you're wondering how I came to be talking to her? She called in to see me just now, to invite you to go to Hawmouth with her on Monday."
"Oh, Gran What did you say?"
"That I'd no money to give you for holiday-keeping; but she said her husband would be pleased to pay your expenses—it's to be his treat."
"Then I'm to go?" Melina asked, trembling with excitement.
"Yes, if the weather keeps fine."
"Oh, I hope it will! I do so hope it will!"
"I'm not sorry you're to have a treat," Mrs. Berryman said, "for—I'll give you your due—I think you deserve it. You've been a better girl lately, and I find you haven't stayed away from school at all. Now, I don't mind your turning religious if so be that makes you less troublesome; but mind you this—keep a still tongue in your head to those Joneses about me, or it'll be the worse for you. I can't abear to be talked about."
"I have never talked about you, Gran—at least, only when you've served me badly, and—"
"Oh, you stick to it that I've served you badly, do you?" Mrs. Berryman interrupted with a frown.
Melina raised her eyes to the old woman's face with a world of reproach in their dark depths. "Gran," she said, "you know."
Her grandmother thrust her away from her. "I've corrected you when you've done wrong," she said, "as it's been my duty to do. Stop staring at me—it's rude to stare."
"I'm sure I didn't mean to be rude," Melina returned. She removed her eyes from Mrs. Berryman's ill-tempered countenance, and asked: "May I run in next door for a minute? I should like to thank Mrs. Jones for inviting—"
"Oh, go if you like!" Mrs. Berryman broke in; "you'd better find out what time you are to start on Monday—I forgot to inquire."
Mrs. Jones was laying the cloth for supper when Melina knocked at the back door, and, from the kitchen window, she beckoned to the child to come in.
"Oh, Mrs. Jones," the little girl began, as she entered the kitchen, "I don't know how to thank you—I don't indeed! Gran has just told me that I'm to go to Hawmouth with you, and oh, it seems almost too wonderful to be true! How good of you to think of it! I've never been to the seaside in my life!"
"Then I'm very glad you're going with us on Monday," Mrs. Jones replied, a smile on her comely face; "you must be ready to start by half-past seven, for the train leaves at a quarter to eight and it will take us more than ten minutes to walk to the station."
"I'll be in good time, never fear!" Melina assured her.
"On second thoughts I think you'd better be ready before that, though, and come in here to breakfast. Yes, that will be best. Breakfast at seven sharp, mind."
"Oh, how nice! Oh, thank you, Mrs. Jones!" Melina's face was beaming with delight, but it clouded slightly as she continued in a more subdued tone: "Gran says Mr. Jones is going to pay for me on Monday. I—I don't think that is quite right—"
"Oh yes, it is," Mrs. Jones broke in quickly; "don't worry your head about that. We shouldn't have thought of inviting you to join us on Monday if we hadn't meant to pay all expenses."
"Oh, how kind you are!" Melina breathed softly, her dark eyes shining with a grateful light through a mist of happy tears.
Soon after that she took her departure, whilst Mrs. Jones proceeded with her interrupted task of preparing for supper, her conscience reproaching her because she had never thought of giving her little neighbour a pleasure before.
"God forgive me," she murmured to herself; "I might perhaps have made life happier for her if I'd tried."
SEVEN o'clock in the morning on Easter Monday found Melina breakfasting with her neighbours. The breakfast of fried bacon and delicious coffee seemed quite a luxurious meal to her, accustomed as she was to commence the day fortified only with a cup of weak tea and a slice of bread spread with margarine or dripping, and, encouraged by a remark from Mr. Jones to the effect that the more she ate the better she would please him, she thoroughly enjoyed it.
"How are you getting on, my dear?" Mr. Jones asked every now and again, as the meal progressed.
And Melina answered each time: "Very well, thank you, Mr. Jones," and gave him a shy pleased smile, with a very grateful feeling in her heart.
Immediately breakfast was over a start was made for the station, Mrs. Jones and Melina walking ahead, while Mr. Jones followed with William, the two latter taking turns in carrying a large covered basket which was full of provisions. They arrived at the station in good time for the excursion train by which they were to make the short journey to Hawmouth.
"I say, Melina, who'd have thought that you'd be going with us?" remarked William, as, with Melina and his mother, he waited on the platform whilst his father procured their tickets.
"Yes, who'd have thought it!" Melina returned gaily; "I can scarcely believe it—really! It's like a dream—a beautiful dream! Oh, how glad I am it's such a fine day!"
"It's warm, too, for April," said Mrs. Jones,—"more like summer, I call it."
Melina was secretly delighted that it was so warm, for on that account she had been able to dispense with her shabby old jacket. She was looking very nice in her new serge frock and sailor hat; and, though her shoes were shabby, she had blacked them so carefully and managed to put such a polish on them that they did not show how much they were worn.
"I wonder what you'll think of the sea, Melina," said William; "I've been telling mother it'll be your first sight of it. You'll be able to get some pretty shells, if you like them, and—oh, here's father!"
Mr. Jones joined them, and, a minute later, their train ran into the station and they took their seats in it at once.
Melina sat next to Mrs. Jones, with Mr. Jones and William opposite. The father and son were wearing their best clothes, and the former had donned a sky-blue tie and put a flower in his button-hole.
"Now we're off!" said Mr. Jones, nodding at Melina, as the train began to move slowly out of the station.
She gave a low laugh expressive of intense delight, and, bending forward, whispered to him: "I've never been by train before!"
"You don't say so!" he exclaimed in astonishment.
"Never," the little girl said impressively, "this is the first proper holiday I've ever had."
"Then I hope you'll enjoy it, my dear," he answered; "it shall not be my fault if you don't."
Looking out of the window Melina noticed that the railway line ran parallel with the river, the Haw, which flowed by Hawstock and emptied itself into the sea at Hawmouth.
"Why, Mr. Jones, how wide the river's getting!" she exclaimed presently; "and oh, there's quite a big ship! How deep the water must be here!"
"Yes," he assented; "at the next curve of the line we shall come in sight of the sea. There now, lookout!"
Melina did look out; but instead of expressing the surprise and admiration her companions had expected to hear, she sat silent, too awe-struck to speak, her eyes fixed on the wide expanse of water which, on this beautiful spring morning, shone like silver in the sunshine. A few minutes later the train ran into a cutting, and then slowed into Hawmouth station and stopped.
Melina never forgot the happy hours which followed. The morning she spent on the esplanade in front of the sea: the tide was high, and, Mr. Jones and William having gone to bathe, and Mrs. Jones having sat down on a seat to rest, she strolled about by herself, looking at the other excursionists and listening to the band which was playing. By and by she returned to Mrs. Jones, and they sat talking and enjoying the fresh salt air and the glorious sunshine, whilst they watched the sea-birds hovering around and the sails of distant ships, which stood out plainly against the blue horizon. Then Mr. Jones and William joined them, and the contents of the big basket were brought to light and they had dinner. The meal consisted of meat pies, made by Mrs. Jones herself, and now pronounced the best she had ever made, with ginger-beer to drink.
By this time the tide was receding; so, as soon as dinner was finished, a move was made for the beach, where, subsequently, they explored the rocks, which were now uncovered. There Melina gathered a quantity of pretty shells with which she filled her pocket, and saw beautiful anemones of varied hues, in the pools between the rocks, besides all kinds of pretty seaweeds. The afternoon passed so quickly that she was quite surprised when Mrs. Jones said it was time for tea.
They had tea at a restaurant. That was a novel experience for Melina, too; and afterwards they returned to the esplanade, where they remained till they were obliged to hurry to the railway station to catch the train home.
"I shall never forget this day as long as I live," Melina declared, as, at half-past nine o'clock, she and her friends were walking from the railway station at Hawstock towards Jubilee Terrace; "and I shall never, never, never be able to thank you enough, Mr. Jones—"
"Now, now," interrupted Mr. Jones, "no more of that! I don't want to hear anything about thanks. I'm glad you've enjoyed my little treat; it's been a real pleasure to us to take you with us, I'm sure."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Mrs. Jones. "Are you very tired, Melina?" she inquired.
"Oh no," the little girl replied, "not in the least! I wish the day was only just beginning!"
As they turned the corner of Jubilee Terrace they saw, by the light of the street lamp, that a man was standing on Mrs. Berryman's doorstep. He moved off as they approached, and met them.
"Excuse me," he said, addressing Mr. Jones; "can you tell me if Mrs. Berryman lives at No. 2?"
"Yes," Mr. Jones assented, "she does."
"Ah, then I was rightly informed! I've knocked at the door several times, but I can't make anyone hear. Perhaps, as it is getting late, I'd better go back to the town and come again to-morrow."
So saying the man, who was tall and of respectable appearance, walked away.
"Now, I wonder who that is," said Mr. Jones. "I don't know him, and yet it seemed to me I'd heard his voice before. I expect your grandmother heard him knocking right enough, eh, Melina?"
"Oh yes," Melina agreed; "but she wouldn't go to the door because it's late, and she'd be afraid he was a robber."
"A robber!" echoed Mr. Jones in astonishment, adding, "Why, I should never have guessed Mrs. Berryman was the sort of woman to be nervous like that! We'll wait and see you get admission, anyway."
Apparently Mrs. Berryman had been watching for the return of the excursionists from her parlour window, for before Mr. Jones had time to knock, she opened the door. The passage of the cottage was in darkness, so that he could not see her face, but he heard by the thickness of her speech immediately she spoke that she was not quite sober.
"So you've brought my granddaughter back at last," she said; "I hope she's behaved herself."
"Why, of course she has," Mr. Jones answered; "she's been a very good little maid, and we've had a most pleasant day."
"Humph!" ejaculated the old woman. She stretched out her hand, and, taking Melina by the arm, pulled her into the passage. "Good night," she said, and forthwith shut the door in her neighbours' faces.
"There's manners for you!" exclaimed William indignantly.
"I hope she'll give that poor child some supper," said Mr. Jones; "I'm glad to remember that she ate a good tea."
"Poor Melina!" sighed Mrs. Jones sympathetically; "what a home-coming for her after a day's pleasure! Poor little girl!"
Meanwhile Mrs. Berryman had drawn Melina into the kitchen, which was lit by a small hand-lamp on the table. On the table, too, stood a bottle of spirits and a tumbler.
"Who was that knocking at the door just before you arrived?" Mrs. Berryman demanded.
"I don't know," Melina replied, "he was a stranger. He spoke to Mr. Jones and asked if you lived here, and when he heard that you did he said he'd call again to-morrow."
"Who can he be?" the old woman muttered to herself. "Did you see what he was like?" she inquired.
"I only saw that he was tall, and I think—oh yes, I am sure that he wore a beard! Mr. Jones thought he knew his voice—"
"What!" cried Mrs. Berryman. "It couldn't have been—no, of course it couldn't—he wouldn't come without writing—he—"
She paused in the midst of her incoherent speech, and, turning to the table, took up the tumbler and drank from it. Then she addressed Melina again.
"Go to bed," she said; "do you hear what I say? Go to bed."
Melina left the kitchen and went upstairs to her own room. She was not very hungry, for, as Mr. Jones had remarked, she had made a good tea, so she did not mind being kept without supper. She undressed herself in the dark, and then knelt down in her night-gown by her bedside to pray: she never went to bed without praying now, for she had learnt to feel that God was really her friend—a tender, loving Father, who cared for her and to whom she could tell all that was in her heart. She had only just finished her prayers when she heard her grandmother's footsteps on the stairs, and, springing hastily to her feet, she jumped into bed. A minute later Mrs. Berryman opened the door and looked in; she was carrying the hand-lamp she had used in the kitchen.
"Are you in bed, child?" she inquired.
"Yes, Gran," Melina answered, adding timidly, for she was always afraid of the old woman if she had been drinking, "Good night."
"Good night," Mrs. Berryman said; then she went to her own room.
The little girl drew a breath of relief. When Mrs. Jones had asked her if she was tired she had answered, as she thought, truthfully in saying she was not; but now she discovered that she was really very weary—doubtless excitement had kept her from feeling so before. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep; but though her limbs ached with fatigue, her mind was still on the alert. In imagination she went over the delightful experiences of the day and listened to the mysterious murmur of the sea.
"I've been so happy, so very, very happy," she thought, "but now it is all over. It was dreadful coming back to Gran—to find she had been drinking again. Oh, what must the Joneses think of her! But there, they know what she is!"
Then she remembered all William Jones had said to her about her grandmother; she had scarcely thought of it during the day; and a great sense of shame filled her heart, and she burst into tears. She wept bitterly until, at length, thoroughly worn out, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, from which, some while later, she awoke with the feeling that something was wrong. She sat up in bed, coughing, to find the room full of smoke. With a cry of horror she realised what was amiss. The house was on fire.
THOROUGHLY wide awake now, Melina jumped out of bed and rushed to the door. It was closed, and, as she opened it, she was met by a volume of smoke ascending the stairway: evidently the fire was downstairs. The smoke almost blinded and choked her; nevertheless she called "Gran! Gran!" as loud as ever she could, and made her way into her grandmother's room, which was over the parlour. It did not surprise her to receive no answer, for she knew Mrs. Berryman was always a heavy sleeper, more especially when she was the worse for drink; so, going at once to the bed, she put out her hands, intending to shake the old woman and thus awaken her, but to her dismay she found the bed unoccupied. It took her but a few minutes after that to ascertain that her grandmother was not in the room at all.
In a panic of fear Melina now rushed out on the landing, meaning to go downstairs in search of Mrs. Berryman, but she found it was quite impossible to do that, for the smoke was momentarily growing denser and great tongues of flame were shooting up the stairway; so she went into her bedroom and hastily dressed herself, then returned to her grandmother's room, where the smoke was rather less thick than in her own, and made her way to the window, which she opened wide, calling loudly as she did so, "Help! Help!"
To her great joy she had an answer at once, a voice in the street, which she recognised as a neighbour's, shouting back:
"All right! Keep by the window, and we'll get you out in a few minutes. Some one's gone for a ladder, and we've sent for the fire-engine."
"Where's Gran?" demanded Melina.
"Mrs. Berryman?" said the same voice; "isn't she up there with you?"
"No," the little girl replied, "and I can't find her! I think she must be downstairs."
There was a murmur of consternation from below, and, leaning out of the window, Melina saw, by the light of the street lamp, that a small crowd had congregated, amongst whom she thought she recognised Mrs. Jones.
"Is that you, Mrs. Jones?" she called.
"Yes," came back the response; "keep up your heart, Melina! Please God the ladder will soon be here!"
"The smoke's stifling me!" cried Melina in accents of terror; "the room's full of it!"
"They—my husband and some others—are breaking into the house from the back. Ah, here comes the ladder, and—yes, the fire-engine at last!"
Two minutes later, just as the fire-engine arrived on the scene, a ladder was placed against the window, and Melina, with assistance, descended it in safety. Mrs. Jones caught her in her arms as she reached the ground; and the little girl, who was feeling sick and dizzy, was glad to lean against her for support.
"Thank God, you're safe," Mrs. Jones said. Then, before she could add any more, William rushed up to them, crying excitedly:
"They've found her!—they've found Mrs. Berryman! She's awfully injured, and they've taken her to the hospital! She was lying at the foot of the stairs, and—"
"Now then, out of the way there!" broke in one of the firemen; "what are you thinking of, standing about in the way like this?"
"Let us go!" cried Melina; "oh, I don't know where we can go!" She was quite unnerved, and trembling in every limb.
"You aren't hurt, are you, Melina?" questioned William.
"No, but I feel so—so, and I can't see properly."
She put her hands to her eyes, which were smarting from the smoke; her strength was failing her, and but for the support of Mrs. Jones she would have fallen.
"She's ill, mother," she heard William say. His voice sounded a long, long distance away, and after that consciousness left her altogether.
When Melina regained her senses she found herself lying on the sofa in Mrs. Jones' parlour, Mrs. Jones standing by her side bathing her forehead with cold water. She struggled into a sitting position, and began to ask questions at once. How did she come there? Had the fire been put out? Where was her grandmother?
"You fainted," Mrs. Jones explained, "as a result of fright and having been nearly smothered with smoke, I expect, and some one helped me to carry you in here. The firemen think they'll be able to prevent the fire spreading to the other cottages if they can keep it from reaching the roof; they've got the better of it already. As to your grandmother—well, you heard William say that she's hurt; she's in the hospital by this time, and she'll get every attention there. Take my advice and lie where you are for a bit; if you'll promise to do that I'll go to the door and inquire what's become of my husband."
"Very well," Melina agreed; "only please don't be very long. Why, it's nearly daylight! Oh I'm glad of that!"
Mrs. Jones hurried away, and a few minutes later Melina heard her talking to some one in the passage.
"Yes, that's a very good idea of yours," the little girl heard her say; "she'd be better away from here—out of all the excitement."
"Then I'll take her back with me now," was the response, spoken in a voice which the listener recognised.
An instant later Mrs. Jones reappeared in company with Agnes Brown's father. He had been to the railway station to book the passengers for an early morning train, and had there been told of the fire in Jubilee Terrace, and had come to have a look at it before returning to Gladstone Street to breakfast.
"I want you to come home with me, my dear," he said to Melina; "your kind neighbour, here, thinks with me that you'd better come. What do you say?"
"Oh yes, yes!" Melina cried. She rose from the sofa as she spoke; then a sudden thought struck her, and she said hesitatingly: "I wish I knew more about Gran—perhaps I ought to go to the hospital myself to find out—"
"No," interposed Mrs. Jones decidedly, "not without you are sent for. Go with Mr. Brown like a good girl; I am sure you ought."
After that, Melina very thankfully accompanied Mr. Brown to his home. Thus it came about that the Browns had an unexpected visitor to their early breakfast that morning. They made Melina sit down with them at the table, and though she had previously declared herself not hungry, she drank some coffee and ate some bread and butter. Mrs. Brown was rather silent during the meal, as was her husband, both fearing that Mrs. Berryman's condition must be very serious; but Agnes and the boys kept up the conversation, asking Melina numerous questions.
"I think you must have been most frightened when you found that the stairs were on fire," remarked Agnes; "oh, weren't you dreadfully scared?"
"Yes," assented Melina. "I was afraid I should be burnt alive; I did not think anyone would be about, and I did not know what the time was—that it was so near daybreak."
"Who first found out about the fire?" asked Agnes.
"An engine-driver who goes on duty at five in the morning," replied Mr. Brown; "he was passing Mrs. Berryman's back door when he saw that the scullery was full of smoke and flames, and gave the alarm immediately."
"It was terrible waiting at the window before the ladder came," Melina said, shuddering; "the smoke was getting thicker and thicker. I tried to pray, but I couldn't—not properly. I didn't seem able to think." She appeared very troubled.
"Many a prayer has never been put into words, my dear; God reads our hearts, you know. Prayer is the uplifting of the heart to God."
It was Mrs. Brown who said this. Melina looked at her eagerly; then exclaimed, with a brightening face and in a tone of relief:
"Oh yes! Then I am sure I prayed in my heart!"
After breakfast, when Mr. Brown had gone to the railway station again, accompanied by the boys, who intended to go on to the scene of the fire, Mr. Jones arrived and had an interview with Mrs. Brown. He did not stay long; and directly he had taken his departure, Mrs. Brown went upstairs to Melina, who was with Agnes in the latter's bedroom.
"Your neighbour, Mr. Jones, has been here, Melina," she began gravely; "he desired me to tell you that your grandmother has been severely burnt about the body and is suffering from shock; you see, she is a very old woman—"
"Oh, is she going to die?" gasped Melina.
There had been a time, not long since, when the thought of her grandmother's death would not have moved her in the least; but now she was deeply agitated. God's love had softened her heart, and she burst into tears.
"Oh, how dreadful if she should die!" she sobbed, as Mrs. Brown hesitated to reply; "why, only last night she was drunk! Oh, she is not fit to die—poor Gran!"
Agnes put her arms around her friend and tried to comfort her, and by and by Melina regained her composure. Then Mrs. Brown spoke again. "I have something more to tell you, Melina," she said,—"something that will be a great surprise for you. Your father has returned."
"My father has returned! Oh, are you sure? Yes, yes, I see you are! Oh, where is he? When did he come?"
"He arrived at Hawstock last night, and went straight to his mother's. It was rather late and Mrs. Berryman would not go to the door to him; she did not guess who he was, I suppose—he had not written to say he was coming—"
"Oh," broke in Melina, "was that my father? Why, I saw him—he spoke to Mr. Jones!"
"So Mr. Jones told me. Mr. Jones did not recognise him then, but he has since done so. It seems that your father slept at an hotel last night, and this morning the first news he heard was of the fire. On learning who it was that had been injured he went to the hospital to see his mother. He saw her; she was conscious and knew him; I believe he is with her now."
"Oh! And Mr. Jones has seen him this morning?" questioned Melina.
"Yes, for a few minutes at the hospital."
"I wonder when I shall see him," Melina said wistfully; "I have so hoped and longed for him to come. And oh, I do wonder what he is like!" she added with an anxious sigh, whilst the expression of her face told of her conflicting feelings.
Before Mrs. Brown had time to reply there was a knock at the front door, and she went downstairs to answer it. She returned almost immediately, her countenance even graver than it had been before.
"Melina, Mr. Blackmore has come to take you to your grandmother," she said; "she has asked for you. You must go at once."
The little girl, trembling with agitation, hastened to obey. She had come to Gladstone Street without a hat, but Agnes now lent her one, and, having put it on, she hurried downstairs, where she found Mr. Blackmore. He took her hand without a word, and led her to a cab which was waiting outside the door.
"Get in, Melina," he said.
She did so, and he followed her, seating himself opposite to her. Then the cab drove off.
"Is Gran dying?" she asked in an awed voice; "please tell me."
"She cannot live out the day," he replied. He paused for a minute, then went on: "She expressed a wish to see me; I was sent for, and, of course, went to her at once. We had a little talk together—"
"Oh, sir," broke in Melina, "is she very frightened?"
"No, not now. God has been very merciful to her; He has given her time to repent—now, at the eleventh hour. Like the dying thief on the cross, she has turned to Jesus when this world is passing—she has gone to Him at last."
"Gran has gone to Him! Do you mean—"
Melina broke off abruptly, for the cab had stopped before the hospital. The little gentleman opened the door and stepped out on the pavement, then assisted his companion to alight, and together they passed through the entrance of the great building into the vestibule beyond.
At that minute a door at one side of the vestibule opened, and a grey-haired, middle-aged nurse, who Melina subsequently learnt was the matron, appeared in company with a tall man, whose dark bearded countenance looked very grave and sad. The nurse glanced quickly from the little girl to Mr. Blackmore, then addressed the latter.
"It is all over, Mr. Blackmore," she said; she collapsed quite suddenly after you left, and never spoke again. "My dear," she added, turning to Melina, "do you understand? Your poor grandmother is dead."
Melina had never loved her grandmother—it had been impossible for her to do so. Nevertheless she felt deeply shocked, and, being in an overwrought condition, she burst again into tears; whereupon the tall man stepped forward quickly; and, folding her in his arms, covered her face with kisses.
"Oh," gasped Melina, "are you—yes, you must be my father!" She was quite sure no one but her father would kiss her like that. "Oh, father, why didn't you come before?"
"I wish I had," he answered brokenly; "oh, I wish I had!"
WHEN John Berryman, Melina's father, shortly after his wife's death, had emigrated to Canada and left his infant daughter with his mother, he had arranged to pay a certain sum monthly for the child's support. Up to that time Mrs. Berryman, though not a teetotaller, had not drank to excess, and, though inclined to be penurious, the love of money had not so warped her character as to make her unscrupulous as to how she obtained it. She had never been an affectionate mother, but her son had believed she would, at any rate, do her duty towards her little granddaughter; and, as he had always regularly kept up the monthly instalments he had promised to send her, he had never dreamed of the possibility that Melina might be neglected in any way.
Unhappily, however, in her old age Mrs. Berryman had succumbed to two powerful evils—the love of money and the love of drink. She had done so by degrees; but as she had kept her son's whereabouts a secret from everybody, no one had been able to enlighten him as to her mode of life, and he had pictured her, retired from business, living comfortably with his little daughter on the income which he had all along been supplying, and had gradually increased as he had become better off. Thus the years had slipped by until it had occurred to him how much he would like to pay a visit to England to see his mother and Melina; he might take them back with him to Canada, he had thought. So he had come home without writing to tell Mrs. Berryman to expect him, having meant to give her a pleasant surprise, and the evening of Easter Monday had found him in his native town.
How different, alas, had his meeting with his mother been to that which he had anticipated! When he had stood by her side, as she lay dying in the hospital, and listened to her confession of wrongdoing, he had felt absolutely stunned; and it was not until after her funeral, when he began to inquire into matters, that he discovered that the greater part of the money he had sent her she had saved and put in the Post Office Savings Bank, whilst one of the firemen had found a tin containing more than thirty pounds in the chimney of her bedroom in Jubilee Terrace.
"I really think my mother must have been crazy," John Berryman remarked to Mr. Blackmore one afternoon, as he stood talking to him in the garden at South View; "she must have been a regular miser; and see how she served my poor little girl! She never told her anything about me—not even where I was or that she ever heard from me; and the Joneses say that she served the child most unkindly at times—when she had been drinking, I suppose."
"Yes, when she had been drinking," agreed Mr. Blackmore; "she was not herself then. Drink almost invariably kills its victims' best qualities, and brings out their worst. It was so in your mother's case, no doubt."
John Berryman heaved a deep sigh. He had had a long interview with Mr. Blackmore in the latter's study at South View, during which he had told him of his plans for the future; and presently he was going to see Melina, who was still staying with the Browns.
"I shall never be able to repay you for your kindness, sir," he said; "but believe me, I shall never forget all you have done for me and mine. Melina's told me what a good friend you've been to her—the first friend she ever had, poor child, so she says; and I shall always remember how you comforted my mother when she lay dying, how you prayed for her when she said she was not fit to pray for herself, and commended her to the love and mercy of God. I could not have helped her as you did; you seemed so sure—"
"Ay, so I was," Mr. Blackmore said, as the other broke off as though hardly able to explain his meaning, "sure of the Saviour—sure that He would keep His promise, 'Him that cometh to Me I will in nowise cast out.' I believe, Berryman, that in those last brief hours of her life, your mother turned to Him, and that He was with her as she passed through the valley of the shadow of death." The two men had by now strolled to the garden gate. As John Berryman opened it he said in a voice which trembled with emotion:
"I believe it, too."
A few minutes later he had taken leave of Mr. Blackmore and was walking towards Gladstone Street. Arrived at the Browns' house, he was met at the door by Melina, who put her arms around his neck and, drawing his face down to hers, kissed him. Already there was an affection between father and daughter which was rapidly growing stronger.
"I'm keeping house alone," she explained; "I would not go out with Agnes and her mother because I thought you might come this afternoon, father. You know I did not see you yesterday all day."
"All day?" He repeated the words with a smile. "Were you disappointed, then?" he inquired, as he followed her into the parlour.
"Yes," she assented, "indeed I was."
John Berryman sat down, and his little daughter took a chair near him, her eyes fixed on his face—a face with strongly marked features, and an expression of straightforwardness about it which made it very attractive. For a few minutes there was silence, then Melina said:
"I went to Jubilee Terrace yesterday, and had a look at No. 2. What a good thing it was the fire was put out before it reached the roof! But oh, father, I'm sorry all the furniture was burnt, for it would have been yours now Gran is dead, wouldn't it?"
"Yes; but it was of little value."
"The only thing I mind having lost was my Bible," said the little girl, "and I do mind very much about that. It was mother's Bible, you know, and I might have saved it if I had thought of it, but I was too frightened to think at all. And oh, father, I forgot to tell you that Gran had a lot of money in her bedroom chimney—"
"Ah, you knew of that, did you? It is quite safe; it was found by one of the firemen."
"Oh! It will be yours now, won't it, father? I never told Gran I knew that she had it; I saw her counting it one day—she saved it, I suppose."
John Berryman made no immediate response. He felt a reluctance, which was very natural, in talking of his mother; and when at length he spoke his voice was very grave and sad.
"Your grandmother saved a lot of money which she ought to have spent," he said, "part of which is rightly mine, for I sent it to her; but the rest I shall give away—to the hospital and the poor of the town. I have told Mr. Blackmore my intention; he considers I shall be doing right."
"Oh, father!" Melina exclaimed. She was silent for a minute, reflecting on what he had said, then she added, "I think I understand what you feel."
"I feel that the money was taken from the poor, and I must make what amends I can."
"I did not know until quite lately, father, what Gran's business was; then William Jones told me."
"Never let us speak of it again, Melina!"
"No, we never will," she agreed. "I saw both Mr. and Mrs. Jones when I was at Jubilee Terrace yesterday," she proceeded to inform him, "and Mr. Jones told me what I had not heard before—that it was Gran who set the house on fire."
"Yes," replied her father, "that was so. She explained that she got up in the night to get something from the kitchen, and let the hand-lamp she was carrying fall. The oil caught fire, and she could not extinguish it; she was going to arouse you when she became giddy and fell—at the foot of the stairs, where Mr. Jones and those who had helped him to break in the backdoor found her."
Melina guessed the "something" her grandmother had gone to fetch from the kitchen had been drink, but she did not say so; and her father abruptly changed the conversation by remarking:
"I have been thinking that I cannot let you stay here much longer. It has been most kind of the Browns to keep you so long; but there is room for you in the house where I am lodging, and—"
"Oh, I should love to be with you, father!" Melina broke in.
He smiled and looked pleased. "I had intended to stay a month or so in England," he said, "but now—well, not having found things as I expected has made me alter my plans."
"You will go back to Canada soon, you mean?" Melina's voice sounded anxious and subdued.
"Yes. I've done very well there—I have all along. I laboured on a new railway first of all, then I got a post on a farm, and afterwards a friend entered into partnership with me and we took some land for ourselves. My partner's looking after everything during my absence, so he's pretty busy—he'll be glad to get me back."
"Yes. I—I expect so," agreed Melina.
Her father looked at her questioningly, for the expression of her face was troubled. "I daresay you will be sorry to leave your friends in Hawstock," he said, "but—"
"Father, father!" interrupted the little girl excitedly, "do you mean that I am to go with you? Oh, do you really mean that?"
"Why, most certainly I do. You did not think I should leave you behind me, did you? I want my little daughter—"
"Oh!" interrupted Melina, her face aglow with happiness, "you can't want me half so much as I want you!"
The tears were running down her cheeks, but they were tears of glad relief; and her heart, which had been often so sad and lonely, was full of joy.
"Come, Melina, my dear, it is time for us to say 'good-bye.'"
It was the evening before the day on which the Berrymans were to leave Hawstock, a beautiful May evening which was drawing to a close, for the sun had nearly set, and a soft, grey mist was settling over the town; and the speaker was John Berryman, who, with his little daughter, was paying a farewell call on Mr. Blackmore.
The scene was the study at South View. Mr. Blackmore sat near his writing-table, close to the open window, through which a gentle breeze was wafting the scent of wallflowers, whilst his visitors were seated farther back in the room. Melina had improved in appearance during the last few weeks; she looked less painfully thin, and faint roses had appeared in her cheeks. But the roses faded now as her father reminded her that it was time for them to say "good-bye" to Mr. Blackmore. She had said several "good-byes" that day, which had made her very sad, to Mr. and Mrs. Jones and William, and to each member of the Brown family, but it seemed to her that to say "good-bye" to Mr. Blackmore was the greatest trial of all.
"Yes," she assented, "I suppose it is." There was a tremulous note of sorrow in her voice.
"One minute," said Mr. Blackmore; "I have something to give you, Melina, before we part."
He opened a drawer in his writing-table as he spoke, and took out a small, morocco-bound Bible, which he handed to her.
"Oh, sir, how kind of you!" was all she could say for a minute, but her face told more than her words that she was deeply touched and pleased. She opened the Bible and saw, written on the fly-leaf: "Melina Berryman, from her friend, Raymond Blackmore."
"Thank you; oh, thank you!" she cried; then she looked at Mr. Blackmore hesitatingly, and asked: "Please, sir, would you write something else?"
"Yes, please. My mother wrote a text under her name in her Bible, her favourite text—"
"And you want me to write your favourite text?" he questioned.
"No, sir, I would like you, please, to write yours." He took the Bible from her, did as she desired, and returned the book to her. She read what he had written: "'The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,'" then met his glance with one full of understanding.
"Thank you," she said softly; "thank you very, very much."
A few minutes later the little girl was walking between her father and Mr. Blackmore through the flower-scented garden towards the garden gate, where, subsequently, good-byes were exchanged.
Melina's eyes were dim as she shook hands with Mr. Blackmore and heard his kind voice say:
"Good-bye, Melina. God bless you and keep you, my dear."
"Good-bye, sir," she answered, smiling at him bravely through her tears; "and God bless you," she added. "Oh, I know He will!"
Then her father took her hand and led her away; but at the corner of the road she glanced back, and saw that the little gentleman was leaning over the garden gate looking after them. The sunset glow was falling full on his face, so that she could see it plainly; and thus, in after years, she always pictured it, illuminated with golden light.
Spottiswoode & Co. Ltd., Printers, Colchester, London and Eton.