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A Peep Behind the Scenes | Amy C. Walton

Betsey Ann

There was still some time before Rosalie need dress herself for the play. She sat still after Toby had left her, thinking over all she had seen in the fair; and it made her very sad indeed. There were such a number of lies being told—she knew there were; such a number of things were being passed off for what they really were not. And then, after all, even if the shows were what they pretended to be, what a poor and miserable way it seemed of trying to be happy! The child wondered how many in that moving multitude were really happy.

Rosalie was thinking about this when she heard a sound close to her, a very different sound from the shouting of the cheap-jacks or the noisy proclamations of the showmen. It was the sound of singing. She went to the door of the caravan and looked out. The little theater was set up at the edge of the fair. Close to the street, and very near the caravan—so near that Rosalie could hear all they said—was standing a group of men. One of them had just given out a hymn, and he and all the rest were singing it. The child could hear every word of it distinctly. There was a chorus at the end of each verse, which came so often, that before the hymn was finished she knew it quite perfectly—

“ ‘Whosoever will, whosoever will,’
Send the proclamation over vale and hill;
’Tis a loving Father calls the wand’rer home:
‘Whosoever will may come.’ ”*

By the time that they had finished the first verse of the hymn, a great crowd had collected round the men, attracted perhaps by the contrast between that sweet, solemn hymn, and the din and tumult in every other part of the fair.

Then one of the men began to speak.

“Friends,” he said—and as he spoke a great stillness fell on the listening crowd—“friends, I have an invitation for you tonight; will you listen to my invitation? You are being invited in all directions tonight. Each man invites you to his own show, and tells you that it is the best one in the fair. Each time you pass him, he calls out to you, ‘Come! come! Come now! Now’s your time!’

“My friends, I, too, have an invitation for you tonight. I, too, would say to you, ‘Come! come! Come now! Now’s your time!’ Jesus Christ, my friends, has sent me with this invitation to you. He wants you to come. He says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’* (Matthew 11:28) He wants you to come now. He says, ‘Come now, let us reason together… though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’* (Isaiah 1:18) He says to you, ‘Now is your time.’ ‘Behold,’ He says, ‘now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’* (2 Corinthians 6:2)

“My friends, this is the invitation; but it is a very different one from the one that man is giving at that show over there. What does he say to those people who are listening to him just now? Does he say, ‘Here’s my show; the door is open, anyone who likes may walk in; there’s nothing to pay’? Does he say that, my friends? Does he ever give his invitation in that way? No, my friends; he always follows up his ‘Come, come now! now’s your time!’ with some such words as these, ‘Only two cents; only two cents; only two cents to pay! Come now!’ And, if you do not produce your two cents, will he let you in?—if you are so poor that you have not two cents in the world, will he say to you, ‘Come, come now! now’s your time’? No, my friends, that he will not.

“Now, the Lord Jesus Christ invites you quite differently. He cries out, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come… without money and without price.’* (Isaiah 55:1) Whosoever will may come! Yes, my friends, the words ‘Whosoever will’* (Revelation 22:17) are written over the door which the Lord Jesus Christ wants you to enter. This is one way in which His invitation is quite different from that which that man is giving from the door of the show.

“We will sing another verse of the hymn, and then I will tell you the other great difference between the two invitations.”

So again they sang—

“ ‘Whosoever will, whosoever will,’
Send the proclamation over vale and hill;
’Tis a loving Father calls the wand’rer home:
‘Whosoever will may come.’ ”

My friends,” said the speaker, when the verse was finished, “there was once in Russia a very curious palace. It was built of nothing but ice. The walls were ice, and the roof was ice, and all the furniture was ice. There were ice sofas, ice chairs, ice fireplaces, ice ornaments. The water was made different colors, and then frozen, so that everything looked real and solid. At night the palace was lighted up, and it shone and sparkled as if it were set with diamonds. Everyone said, ‘What a beautiful palace!’

“But it did not last, my friends, it did not last. The thaw came, and the ice palace faded away; there was soon nothing left of it but a pool of dirty water. It was all gone; it was very fine for a time; but there was nothing solid in it, and it melted away like a dream.

“My friends, yonder in that fair is the world’s ice-palace! It sparkles, it glitters, it looks very fine; but it isn’t solid, it won’t last. Tomorrow it will all be over; it will have melted away like a dream. Nothing will be left but dust, and dirt, and misery. There will be many aching heads and aching hearts this time tomorrow.

“My friends, the world’s grandest display is a very disappointing thing after all. And this is the second way in which the Lord Jesus Christ’s invitation is so different from that of the man at that show-door. When the Lord Jesus Christ says ‘Come,’ He has always something good to give, something that is solid, something that will last, something that will not disappoint you. He has pardon to give you, He has peace to give you, He has heaven to give you. All these are good gifts, all these are solid, all these will last, not one of them will disappoint you.

“Oh, will you come to Him, my friends? He calls to you ‘Come! come now!’ Now’s your time! There’s room now, there’s plenty of room now! Yet there is room; tomorrow it may be too late!

“Will you not come to Him tonight?

“Whosoever cometh need not delay;
Now the door is open: enter while you may;
Jesus is the true, the only Living Way:
‘Whosoever will may come.’

“ ‘Whosoever will, whosoever will,’
Send the proclamation over vale and hill;
’Tis a loving Father calls the wand’rer home:
‘Whosoever will may come.’ ”

“Rosalie,” said her father’s voice, “be quick and get ready”; and Rosalie had to close the caravan door and dress for the play. But the hymn and the sermon were treasured up in the child’s heart, and were never forgotten by her.

That was the last fair which Augustus Joyce visited that year. The cold weather was coming on; already there had been one or two severe frosts, and the snow had come beating down the caravan chimney, almost extinguishing the little fire.

Augustus thought it was high time that he sought for winter quarters; and, having made an engagement in a town theater in the south for the winter months, he determined to go to the town at once, and dismiss his company until the spring.

On the road to the town they passed many other caravans, all bound on the same errand, coming like swallows to a warmer clime.

Rosalie’s father went first to an open space, the stableyard where the caravans were stowed away for the winter. Here he left Rosalie for some time, while he went to look for lodgings in the town. Then he and the men removed from the caravans the things which they would need, and carried them to their new quarters. When all was arranged, Augustus told the child to follow him, and led the way through the town.

How Rosalie wondered to what kind of a place she was going! They went down several streets, wound in and out of different squares and courts, and the child had to run every now and then to keep up with her father’s long strides. At last they came to a winding street full of tall, gloomy houses, before one of which her father stopped and knocked at the door. Some ragged children, without shoes or stockings, were sitting on the steps, and moved off as Rosalie and her father came up.

The door was opened by a girl about fifteen years old, with a miserable, careworn face, and dressed in an untidy, torn frock, which had lost all its hooks, and was fastened with large white pins.

“Where’s your mistress?” said Augustus Joyce.

The girl led the way to the back of the house, and opened the door of a dismal parlour, smelling strongly of tobacco.

Rosalie gazed round her at the dirty paper on the walls, and the greasy chair-covers and the ragged carpet, and was not favorably impressed with her new abode. There were some shabby prints in equally shabby frames hanging on the walls; a bunch of paper flowers, a strange mixture of pink and red, blue and green and orange, was standing on the table, and several cheap magazines and periodicals were lying on the chairs, as if someone had just been reading them.

Then the door opened, and the mistress of the house entered. She was an actress, Rosalie felt sure of that the first moment she saw her; she was dressed in a faded, greasy silk dress which swept up the dust of the floor as she walked in, and she greeted her new lodgers with an overpowering bow.

She took Rosalie upstairs, past several landings, where doors opened and people peered out to catch a glimpse of the new lodger, up to a little attic in the roof, which was to be Rosalie’s sleeping-place. It was full of boxes and lumber, which the lady of the house had stowed there to be out of the way; but in one corner the boxes were pushed on one side, and a little bed was put up for the child to sleep on, and a basin was set on one of the boxes for her to wash in. Rosalie’s own box was already there; her father had brought it up for her before she arrived, and she was pleased to find that it was still closed. There were treasures in that box which no one in that house must see!

The lady of the house told Rosalie that in a few minutes her supper would be ready, and that she must make haste and come downstairs. So the child hastily took off her hat and jacket, and went down the numerous stairs to a room in the front of the house, where tea was provided for those lodgers who boarded with the lady of the house.

The child was most thankful when the meal was over. The rude, coarse jests and noisy laughter of the company grated on her ears, and she longed to make her escape. As soon as she could, she slipped from her father’s side, and crept upstairs to her little attic. Here at least she could be alone and quiet. It was very cold, but she unfastened the box and took out her mother’s shawl, which she wrapped tightly round her. Then she opened out her treasures and stowed them away as best she could. She opened the locket, and looked at the sweet, girlish face inside and, oh, how she wished she were with her Aunt Lucy. How would she ever be able to keep that locket safely? that was her next thought. There was no key to the attic door, nor was there a key to her box. How could she be sure, when she was out at the theater, that the people of the house would not turn over the contents of her box?

It was clear that the locket must be hidden somewhere, for Rosalie would never forgive herself if, after her mother had kept it safely all those years, she should be the one to lose it. She sat for some time thinking how she should dispose of it, and then came to the conclusion that the only way would be to wear it night and day round her neck underneath her dress, and never on any account to let anyone catch sight of it. It was some time before she could carry out this plan to her satisfaction. She tied the locket carefully up in a small parcel, in which she placed the precious letter which her mother had written to her Aunt Lucy, and she concealed the packet inside her dress, tying it round her neck.

After this Rosalie felt more easy, and took out her little articles of clothing, and hung them on some nails which she found on the attic door. Then she took from her pocket her own little Testament, and crept up to the window to read a few verses before it was too dark. The light was fast fading, and the lamplighter was going down the street lighting the lamps; there was no time to lose.

So the child opened her book and began to read: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”* (1 Peter 5:7) Those were the first words which met her eyes. She repeated them over and over again to herself, that she might be able to remember them when the attic was quite dark. And they seemed just the words she needed; they were the Good Shepherd’s words of comfort which He whispered to the weary lamb on His bosom.

For, as the shadows grew deeper and the room became darker, Rosalie felt very lonely and miserable. Once she thought she would go downstairs to look for her father; but whenever she opened the door, there seemed to be such a noise and clamor below, that she did not like to venture; she felt as if her mother would have liked her to stay where she was. She could not read now, and it was very cold indeed in the attic. The child shivered from head to foot, and wondered if the long hours would ever pass away. At last she determined to get into bed, for she thought she should be warmer there, and hoped she might get to sleep. But it was still early, and sleep seemed far away.

And then Rosalie thought of her text, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” ” ‘All your care’—that means my care,” thought the weary child—“my own care. ‘All your care’; all—all the care about losing my mummy, and about having to stay in this noisy house, and about having to go and act in that wicked theater, and about having to take care of my locket and my letter.

“ ‘Casting all your care upon Him’—that means my own Good Shepherd, who loves me so. I wonder what casting it on Him means,” thought little, weary Rosalie. “How can I cast it on Him? If my mummy was here, I would tell her all about it, and ask her to help me. Perhaps that’s what I’ve got to do to the Good Shepherd; I’ll try.”

So Rosalie knelt up in bed, and said, “O Good Shepherd, please, here’s a little lamb come to speak to you. Please, I’m very lonely, and my mummy is dead, and I’m so afraid someone will get my locket; please keep it safe. And I’m so frightened in the dark in this wicked house; please take care of me. And don’t let me get wicked; I want to love you, dear Good Shepherd, and I want to meet my mummy in heaven: please keep me clean by the blood of Jesus. Amen.”

Then Rosalie lay down again, and felt much happier; the pain at her heart seemed to be gone.

“He careth for you.” How sweet those last words of the text were! She had not her mother to care for her, but the Good Shepherd cared for her; He loved her; He would not let her go wrong.

Rosalie was thinking of this, and repeating her text again and again, when she felt something moving on the bed, and something very cold touched her hand. She started back at first, but in a moment she found it was nothing but the nose of a little soft furry kitten, that had crept in through the opening of the door; for Rosalie had left her door a little ajar, that she might get a ray of light from the gas-lamp on the lower landing. The poor little kitten was very cold, and the child felt that it was as lonely and weary as she was. She put it in a snug place in her arms and stroked it very gently, till the tiny creature purred softly with delight.

Rosalie did not feel so lonely after the kitten had come to her. She had been lying still for some time, when she heard a step on the stairs, and her father’s voice called, “Rosalie, where are you?”

“I’m in bed,” said little Rosalie.

“Oh, alright!” said her father. “I couldn’t find you. Goodnight.”

Then he went downstairs, and the child was once more alone; she lay stroking the kitten, and wondering if she should ever get to sleep. It was the longest night she ever remembered; it seemed as if it would never be bedtime—at least, the bedtime of the people downstairs. The talking and laughing still went on, and Rosalie thought it would never cease.

But at last the weary hours went by, and the people seemed to be going to bed. Then the light on the landing was put out, and all was quite still. The kitten was fast asleep; and Rosalie at length followed its example, and dropped into a peaceful slumber.

She had been asleep a long, long time, at least so it seemed to her, when she woke up suddenly, and, opening her eyes, she saw a girl standing by her bedside with a candle in her hand, and looking at her curiously. It was the little servant girl who had opened the door for her and her father.

“What is it?” said Rosalie, sitting up in bed. “Is it time to get up?”

“No,” said the girl; “I’m only just coming to bed.”

“Why, isn’t it very late?” asked the child.

“Late? I should think it is late,” said the poor little maid; “it’s always late when I come to bed. I have to wash the pots up after all the others has gone upstairs. Ay! but my back does ache tonight! Bless you! I’ve been upstairs and downstairs all day long.”

“Who are you?” said Rosalie.

“I’m kitchen-maid here,” said the girl; “I sleep in the attic next you. What did you come to bed so soon for?”

“I wanted to be by myself,” said Rosalie. “There was such a noise downstairs.”

“La! do you call that a noise? said the girl. “It’s nothing to what there is sometimes. I thought they were pretty peaceable tonight.”

“Do you like being here?” asked the child.

“Like it?” said the girl. “Bless you! did you say like it? I hate it; I wish I could die. It’s nothing but work, work, scold, scold, from morning till night.”

“Poor thing!” said Rosalie. “What is your name?”

“Betsey Ann,” said the girl, with a laugh. “It isn’t a very pretty name, is it?”

“No,” said the child; “I don’t like it very much.”

“They gave me it in the workhouse; I was born there, and my mother died when I was born, and I’ve never had a bit of pleasure all my life; I wish I was dead!”

“Shall you go to heaven when, you die?” asked Rosalie.

“La, bless you! I don’t know,” said the girl. “I suppose so.”

“Has the Good Shepherd found you yet?” asked the child, “Because if He hasn’t, you won’t go to heaven, you know.”

The girl stared at Rosalie with a bewildered air of amazement and surprise.

“Don’t you know about the Good Shepherd?” asked the child.

“Bless you! I don’t know anything,” said the girl. “Nothing but my A B C.”

“Shall I read to you about it; are you too tired?”

“No, not if it’s not very long.”

“Oh, it’s short enough; I’ve got my book under my pillow.”

So Rosalie read the parable of the Lost Sheep. The girl put down her candle on one of the boxes and listened.

“It’s very pretty,” she said, when Rosalie had finished, “but I don’t know what it means.”

“Jesus is the Good Shepherd,” said Rosalie. “You know who He is, don’t you, Betsey Ann?”

“Yes, He’s God, isn’t He?”

“Yes and He loves you so much,” said the child.

“Loves me?” said Betsey Ann. “I don’t believe He does. There’s nobody loves me, and nobody never did!”

“Jesus does,” said Rosalie.

“Well, I never!” said the girl. “Where is He? what’s He like?”

“He’s up in heaven,” said Rosalie, “and yet He’s in this room now, and He does love you, Betsey Ann; I know He does.”

“How do you know? Did He tell you?”

“Yes; He says in this book that He loved you, and died that you might go to heaven. You couldn’t have gone to heaven if He hadn’t died.”

“Bless you! I wish I knew as much as you do,” said the girl.

“Will you come up here sometimes, and I’ll read to you?” said Rosalie.

“La! catch missus letting me. She won’t let me wink scarcely! I never get a minute to myself, week in week out.”

“I don’t know what I can do then,” said Rosalie. “Could you come on Sunday?”

“Bless you! Sunday? Busiest day in the week here; lodgers are all in, and want hot dinners!”

“Then I can’t see a way at all,” said Rosalie.

“I’ll tell you what,” said the girl. “I’ll get up ten minutes earlier, and go to bed ten minutes later, if you’ll read to me out of that little book, and tell me about somebody loving me. Ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night: say, that will be twenty minutes a day!”

“That would be very nice!” said Rosalie.

“But I get up awful soon,” said Betsey Ann, “afore ever there’s a glimmer of light. Would you mind being waked up then?”

“Oh, not a bit,” said Rosalie, “if only you’ll come.”

“I’ll come sure enough,” said the girl. “I like you!”

She took up her candle and was preparing to depart when she caught sight of the kitten’s tail peeping out from Rosalie’s pillow.

“La, bless you! there’s that kit!”

“Yes,” said the child; “we’re keeping each other company, me and the kitten.”

“I should think it’s glad to have a bit of quiet,” said Betsey Ann. “It gets nothing but kicks all day long, and it’s got no mother—she was found dead in the coal-cellar last week. It’s been pining for her ever since.”

“Poor little thing!” said Rosalie. She held it closer to her bosom. It was a link of sympathy between her and the kitten; they were both motherless, and both pining for their mother’s love. She would pet and comfort that little ill-used kitten as much as ever she could.

Then Betsey Ann wished Rosalie goodnight, took up her candle, and went to her own attic, dragging her shoes after her.

And Rosalie fell asleep.