Alone in the World
It was the day after her father’s funeral. Rosalie was busily engaged sweeping the high staircase, when her stepmother came out of the dingy parlor, and called to the child to come down.
As soon as Rosalie entered the room, Mrs. Joyce told her to shut the door, and then asked her in a sharp voice how long she intended to stay in her house.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” said Rosalie timidly.
“Then you ought to know,” returned Mrs. Joyce. “You don’t expect me to keep you, and take care of you? You’re nothing to me, you know.”
“No,” said Rosalie. “I know I’m not.”
“So I thought I’d better tell you at once,” she said, “that you might know what to expect. I’m going to speak to the workhouse about you—that’s the best place for you now. They’ll make you like hard work, and get a good place for you, like Betsey Ann.”
“Oh, no!” said Rosalie quickly; “no, I don’t want to go there.”
“Don’t want?” repeated Mrs. Joyce. “I daresay you don’t want. But beggars can’t be choosers, you know. If you’d been a nice, smart, strong girl, I might have kept you instead of Betsey Ann. But a little puny thing like you wouldn’t be worth her salt. No, no, miss; your fine days are over. To the workhouse you’ll go, sure as I’m alive.”
“Please, ma’am,” began Rosalie, “my mother, I think, had some relations—”
“Rubbish, child!” said her stepmother, interrupting her. “I never heard of your mother having any relations. I don’t believe she had any, or if she had, they’re not likely to have anything to say to you. No, no; the workhouse is the place for you, and I shall take care you go to it before you’re a day older. Be off now, and finish the stairs.”
“Betsey Ann,” said Rosalie, as they went upstairs together that night, long after everyone else in that large house was fast asleep—“Betsey Ann, dear Betsey Ann, I’m going away!”
“La, bless me!” said Betsey Ann. “What do you say?”
“I’m going away tomorrow, dear!” whispered Rosalie. “So come into my attic, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
The two girls sat down on the bed, and Rosalie told Betsey Ann what her stepmother had said to her, and how she could not make up her mind to go into the workhouse, but had settled to leave the lodging house before breakfast the next morning, and never to come back any more.
“But, Rosalie,” said Betsey Ann, “whatever will you do? You can’t live on air, child. You’ll die if you go away like that!”
“Look here,” said Rosalie, in a very low whisper, “I can trust you, Betsey Ann, and I’ll show you something.”
She put her hand in her bosom, and brought out a little parcel, and when she had opened it she handed the locket to Betsey Ann.
“La, how beautiful!” said the girl. “I never saw it before.”
“No,” said Rosalie. “I promised my mummy I would never lose it. And I’ve been so afraid lest someone should see it, and take it from me.”
“Whoever is this pretty little lady, Rosalie?”
“She’s my mummy’s sister. Oh, such a good, kind lady! That is her picture when she was quite young. She is married now, and has a little girl of her own. So now I’ll tell you all about it,” said Rosalie. “Just before my mummy died, she gave me that locket, and she said, if ever I had an opportunity, I was to go to my Aunt Lucy. She wrote a letter for me to take with me, to say who I am, and to ask my Aunt Lucy to be kind to me.
“Here’s the letter,” said the child, taking it out of the parcel; “that’s my mummy’s writing. ‘MRS. LESLIE, Melton Parsonage.’ Didn’t she write beautifully?”
“Well, but Rosalie,” said Betsey Ann, “what do you mean to do?”
“I mean to go to my Aunt Lucy, dear, and give her the letter.”
“Missis’ll never let you go, Rosalie; it’s no use trying. She said you should go to the workhouse, and she’ll keep her word!”
“Yes, I know she’ll never give me leave,” said Rosalie. “So I’m going tomorrow morning before breakfast. She doesn’t get up till eleven, and I shall be far away then.”
“But, Rosalie, do you know your way?”
“No,” said the child wearily. “I shall have to ask, I suppose. How far is Pendleton from here, Betsey Ann? Do you know?”
“Yes,” said Betsey Ann. “There was a woman in the workhouse came from there. She often told us of how she walked the distance on a cold, snowy day. It’s fourteen or fifteen miles, I think.”
“Well, that’s the town,” said Rosalie, “where the old man gave me my picture; and it was the first village we passed through after that where my Aunt Lucy lived. Melton must be about five miles farther than Pendleton.”
“Oh, Rosalie,” said Betsey Ann, “that’s near upon twenty miles! You’ll never be able to walk all that way!”
“Oh, yes,” said the child; “I must try. Because if once I get there—oh, Betsey Ann, just think—if once I get there, to my own dear Aunt Lucy!”
But Betsey Ann buried her face in her hands and began to sob.
“La, bless you, it’s all right!” she said, as Rosalie tried to comfort her. “You’ll be happy there, and it will be all right. But, oh, dear me! To think I’ve got to stay here without you!”
“Poor Betsey Ann!” said the child, as she laid her little hand on the girl’s rough hair. “What can I do?”
“Oh, I know it’s all right, Rosalie. It’s better than seeing you go to the workhouse. But I didn’t think it would come so soon. Can’t you tell the Good Shepherd, Rosalie, and ask Him to look after me a bit, when you’re gone?”
“Yes, dear,” said the child. “Let us tell Him now.”
So they knelt down, hand in hand, on the attic floor, and Rosalie prayed, “Oh, Good Shepherd, I am going away. Please take care of Betsey Ann, and comfort her, and help her to do right, and never let her feel lonely or unhappy. And please take care of me, and bring me safe to my Aunt Lucy. And if Betsey Ann and I never meet again in this world, please may we meet in heaven. Amen.”
Then they rose from their knees comforted, and began to make preparations for Rosalie’s departure.
She would take very little with her, for she had so far to walk that she could not carry much. She filled a very small bag with the things that she needed most, and wrapped her little Testament up, and put it in the center, with the small pair of blue shoes which had belonged to her little brother. Her picture, too, was not forgotten, nor the card with the hymn upon it. When all was ready, they went to bed, but neither of them could sleep much that night.
As soon as it was light, Rosalie prepared to start. She wrapped herself in her mother’s warm shawl, for it was a raw, chilly morning, and took her little bag in her hand. Then she went into Betsey Ann’s attic to say goodbye.
“What am I to tell the missis, when she asks where you’ve gone?” said the girl.
“You can say, dear, that I’ve gone to my mother’s relations, and am not coming back anymore. She won’t ask anymore, if you say that. She’ll only be too glad to get rid of me. But I’d rather she didn’t know where my Aunt Lucy lives; so don’t say anything about it, please, Betsey Ann, unless you have to.”
The girl promised, and then with many tears they took leave of each other.
Just as Rosalie was starting, and Betsey Ann was opening the door for her, she caught sight of something very black and soft under the child’s large shawl.
“La, bless me!” she cried. “What’s that?”
“It’s only the poor little kit,” said Rosalie. “I couldn’t leave her behind. She took a piece of fish the other day, and the mistress was so angry, and is going to give her poison. She said last night she would poison my kit today. She called out after me as I went out of the room, ‘Two pieces of rubbish got rid of in one day. Tomorrow you shall go to the workhouse, and that wretched little thief of a kitten shall be poisoned.’ And then she laughed, Betsey Ann. So I couldn’t leave my dear little kit behind, could I?” and Rosalie stroked its black fur very lovingly as she spoke.
“But how will you ever carry it, Rosalie? It won’t be good all that way, rolled up like that.”
“Oh, I shall manage, dear. It will walk a bit when we get in the country. It follows me just like a dog.”
“And what are you going to eat on the way, Rosalie? Let me fetch you a bit of something out of the pantry.”
“Oh, no, dear!” said Rosalie decidedly. “I won’t take anything, because it isn’t mine. But I have a piece of bread that I saved from breakfast, and I have a nickel which my father gave me once, so I shall manage till I get there.”
So Rosalie went out into the great world alone, and Betsey Ann stood at the door to watch her go down the street. Over and over again did Rosalie come back to say goodbye, over and over again did she turn round to kiss her hand to the poor little servant girl, who was watching her down the street. And then when she turned the corner, and could no longer see Betsey Ann’s friendly face, Rosalie felt really alone. The streets looked very wide and dismal then, and Rosalie felt that she was only a little girl, and had no one to take care of her. And then she looked up to the blue sky, and asked the Good Shepherd to help her, and to bring her safely to her journey’s end.
It was about six o’clock when Rosalie started, the men were going to their work, and were hurrying quickly past her. Rosalie did not like to stop any of them to ask them the way, they seemed too busy to have time to speak to her. She ventured timidly to put the question to a boy of fifteen, who was sauntering along, whistling, with his hands in his pockets. But he only laughed, and asked her why she wanted to know. So Rosalie walked on, very much afraid that after all she might be walking in the wrong direction. She next asked some children on a doorstep. But they were frightened at being spoken to, and ran indoors.
Then Rosalie went up to an old woman who was opening her shutters, and asked her if she would be so very good as to tell her the way to Pendleton.
“What, my dear?” said the old woman. “Speak up. I’m deaf.”
But though Rosalie stood on tiptoe to reach up to her ear, and shouted again and again, she could not make the old woman hear, and at last had to give it up, and go on her way. She was feeling very lonely now, poor child, not knowing which way to turn, or to whom to go for help. True, there wore many people in the street, but they were walking quickly along, and Rosalie was discouraged by her unsuccessful attempts, and afraid to stop them. She had come some way from the street in which she had lived with her stepmother, and had never been in this part of the town before. She was feeling very faint and hungry, from having come so far before breakfast. But she did not like to eat her one piece of bread, for she would need it so much more later in the day. But she broke off a small piece and gave it to the poor hungry little kit, which was mewing under her shawl.
“Oh,” thought Rosalie, “if I only had someone to help me just now—someone to show me where to go, and what to do!”
There was a story which the child had read in her little Testament, which came suddenly into her mind just then. It was a story of the Good Shepherd when He was on earth. The story told how He sent two of His disciples into the city of Jerusalem to find a place for Him and them, where they might eat the Passover. The two men did not know to which house to go. They did not know who, in the great city of Jerusalem, would be willing to give a room. But Jesus told them that as soon as they came inside the city gate they would see a man walking before them. He told them the man would be carrying a pitcher of water. And when they saw this man, they were to follow him, and go down just the same streets as he did. He told them that by and by the man would stop in front of a house, and go into the house, and then, when they saw him go in, they were to know that that was the right house, the house in which they were to eat the Passover.
Rosalie remembered this story now, as she stood at the corner of a street, not knowing which way to turn. How she wished that a man with a pitcher of water would appear and walk in front of her, that she might know which way to go! But though she looked up and down the street, she saw no one at all like the man in the story. There were plenty of men, but none of them had pitchers, nor did they seem at all likely to guide her into the right way.
But the Good Shepherd was the same, Rosalie thought, as kind now as He was then, so she spoke to Him in her heart, in a very earnest little prayer.
“O Good Shepherd, please send me a man with a pitcher of water to show me the way, for I am very unhappy, and I don’t know what to do. Amen.”