In Sight of Home
When the little service was over, the people went away, and Mr. Westerdale, Mother Manikin, and Rosalie sat together over the fire talking. The old man was much encouraged by all that he heard from the child. He had sometimes wondered whether his visits to the fair had done the slightest good to anyone, and now that he heard how God had so largely blessed this one picture, he felt strengthened and cheered to make further efforts for the benefit of the poor travelers whose souls so few care for. Next Sunday would be the Sunday for him to visit the shows, he said, and he should go there this year with more hope and more faith.
When Rosalie heard this, she begged him to have a little conversation with the woman with whom she had traveled. She told him to look out for the show over the door of which was written, “Lord Fatimore and other Pleasing Varieties,” for there, she felt sure, he would find a work to do. And she did not forget to ask him, when he went there, to remember to inquire for Jinx, and to speak to him also.
When Mr. Westerdale had said goodnight and was gone away, Mother Manikin insisted on Rosalie’s going at once to bed, for the child was very weary with her long and tiring day.
She slept very soundly, and in the morning awoke to find Mother Manikin standing beside her with a cup of tea in her hands.
“Come, child,” she said, “drink this before you get up.”
“Oh, dear Mother Manikin,” said Rosalie, starting up, how good you are to me!”
“Bless you, child!” said the dear little old woman. “I only wish you could stay with me altogether. Now mind me, child, if you find, when you get to Melton, that it isn’t convenient for you to stay at your aunt’s, just you come back to me. Dear me! How comfortable you and me might be together! I’m lonesome at times here, and want a bit of company, and my little bit of money is enough for both of us. So mind you, child,” repeated Mother Manikin, shaking her little fist at Rosalie, “if you don’t find all quite straight at Melton, if you think it puts them out at all to take you in, you come to me. Now I’ve said it, and when I’ve said it I mean it. Old age must have its liberties, and I must be obeyed.”
“Dear Mother Manikin,” said Rosalie, putting her arms round the little old woman’s neck, “I can never, never, never say thank you often enough.”
After breakfast Rosalie started on her journey, with the little black kit in its usual place in her arms. Mother Manikin insisted on wrapping up a little parcel, containing lunch, for the child to eat on her way. And as she stood on the doorstep to see her off, she called out after her, “Now, child, if all isn’t quite alright, come back here tonight; I shall be looking out for you.”
So Rosalie started on her journey. On her way she passed the field where the fair was to be held. What recollections it brought to her mind of the year before, when she had arrived there in the caravan with her sick mother.
Not many shows had reached the place, for it was yet three days before the fair would be held. But in one corner of the field Rosalie discovered the bright yellow caravans of the show of “Lord Fatimore and other Pleasing Varieties.” She could not pass by without going for a moment to the caravan to thank Old Mother, and John Thomas and Jinx, for their kindness to her the day before.
Mother was having a great wash of all John Thomas’s clothes, and Lord Fatimore’s and Jinx’s and her own. She was standing at the door of the caravan washing, and Jinx was busily engaged hanging out the clothes on a line which had been stretched between the two caravans.
“Halloo, young ’un!” said he, as Rosalie came up. “And where have you sprung from?”
Rosalie told him that she had spent the night with a friend who lived in the town, and was going to continue her journey.
“Young ’un,” said Jinx, “I haven’t forgot what you told me about that there picture. I like my picture a deal more than I did afore.”
Then Rosalie went up to the woman, who did not see her till she was close to the caravan steps. The woman was hard at work at her washing, with Skirrywinks sitting on her shoulder, and Spanco, the pigeon, on her head. Rosalie could not be quite sure, but she fancied there were tears in her eyes as she bent over her washing.
“Oh, it’s you!” she said to Rosalie. “I am glad to see you again. I was thinking about you just then.”
“Were you?” said the child. “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking over what we talked about yesterday—about the lost sheep.”
“Did you remember last night to ask the Good Shepherd to find you,” said Rosalie.
“Oh, yes,” said the woman, “I didn’t forget. But instead of the Good Shepherd finding me, I think I’m farther away from the fold than ever. Leastways, I never knew I was so bad before.”
“Then the Good Shepherd is going to find you,” said Rosalie. “He only waits until we know we are lost, and then He is ready to find us at once.”
“Oh, I do hope so,” said the woman earnestly. “You’ll think of me sometimes, won’t you?”
“Yes, I’ll never forget you,” said the child.
“Will you come in and rest a bit?”
“No, thank you, ma’am,” said Rosalie. “I must go now. I have some way farther to walk. But I wanted to say goodbye to you, and to thank you for being so kind to me yesterday.”
“Bless you!” said the woman heartily. “It was nothing to speak of. Goodbye, child, and mind you think of me sometimes.”
So Rosalie left the fairgrounds and turned on to the Melton road. What a strange feeling came over her then! She was within five miles of her Aunt Lucy, and was really going to her at last! Oh, how she had longed to see that dear face which she had gazed at so often in the locket! How she had yearned to deliver her mother’s letter, and to see her Aunt Lucy reading it! How often—how very often, all this had been in her mind by day, and had mingled with her dreams at night!
And yet now—now that she was really on the road which led up to her Aunt Lucy’s door—Rosalie’s heart failed her. She looked down at her little frock, and saw how very old and faded it was. She took off her hat, and the piece of black ribbon which Toby had given her had never before seemed so rusty and brown.
What a shabby little girl her Aunt Lucy would see coming in at the garden gate! Her thoughts traveled back to the little girl whom she had seen in that garden a year ago, her Aunt Lucy’s own little girl. How differently she was dressed! How different in every way she was to Rosalie! What if her Aunt Lucy was vexed with her for coming? She had had much trouble from Rosalie’s father. Was it likely she would welcome his child?
Sometimes Rosalie felt inclined to turn back and go to old Mother Manikin. But she remembered how her mother had said, “If ever you can, dear, you must go to your Aunt Lucy, and give her that letter.”
And now, whatever it cost her, Rosalie determined she would go. But she grew more and more shy as she drew nearer the village, and walked far more slowly than she had done when she first left the town.
At last the village of Melton came in sight. It was a fine spring morning, and the sunlight was falling softly on the cottages, and farmhouses, and the beautiful green trees and hedges.
Rosalie rested a little on a low stone wall before she went farther, and the little black kit basked in the sunshine. The field close by was full of sheep, and the child sat and watched them. It was a very pretty field. There were groups of trees, under the shadow of which the sheep could lie and rest. There was a quiet stream trickling through the middle of the field, where the sheep could drink the cool, refreshing water.
As Rosalie watched the sheep in their happy, quiet field, a verse of the psalm which Popsey’s old grandfather had read came into her mind: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:2)
What if the Good Shepherd were about to take her, His poor little motherless lamb, to a green pasture, a quiet, restful home, where she might be taught more of the Good Shepherd’s love? How Rosalie prayed that it might indeed be so! And then she summoned courage and went on.
It was about noon when she reached Melton. The country people were most of them having their dinner, and few people were in the village street. With a beating heart the child pressed on.
Soon she came in sight of the little cottage, before which the caravan had stood when she and her mother were there a year ago. There was the cottage with its thatched roof, looking just as comfortable as it had done then. There was the garden just the same as before, with the same kind of flowers growing in it. There were the cabbage-roses, the southernwood, the rosemary, the sweetbriar, and the lavender. And the wind was blowing softly over them, and wafting their sweet fragrance to Rosalie, just as it had done a year ago. And there was Rosalie, standing peeping through the gate, just as she had done then. It seemed to Rosalie like a dream which she had dreamt before. Only a year—only a year ago!
And yet one was absent. Her mother was no more there. She was gone and little Rosalie was alone by the gate!
Tears came in her eyes as she looked through the bars, and fell upon her little dusty frock. But she wiped them away, and went on through the village street.
At last she arrived at the large house close to the church which her mother had longed so much to see. With a trembling hand she opened the iron gate and walked up the broad gravel path.
There was a large knocker in the middle of the door, and a bell on one side of it. Rosalie did not know whether to knock or to ring, so she stood still for a few minutes without doing either, hoping that someone would see her from the window and come to ask what she wanted.
But as the minutes passed by and no one came, Rosalie ventured, very gently and timidly, to rap with the knocker. But no one inside the house heard the sound of the child’s knocking. So she gathered courage and pulled the bell, which rang so loudly that it made her tremble more than ever.
Then she heard a rustling in the hall and the sound of a quick footstep, and the door was opened. A girl about eighteen years of age stood before her, dressed in a pretty print dress and very white apron, with a neat round cap on her head. Rosalie was trembling so much now that she cast her eyes on the ground and did not speak.
“What do you want, dear?” said the girl kindly, stooping down to Rosalie as she spoke.
“If you please,” said Rosalie, “is Mrs. Leslie in? I have a letter that I want very much to give her.”
“No, dear; she’s not in just now,” said the girl. “Will you leave the letter with me?”
“Oh, please,” said Rosalie timidly, “I would very much like to give it to her myself, if you will be so kind as to let me wait till she comes.”
“Yes, she won’t be very long,” said the girl. “Would you like to sit in the greenhouse till she comes. It’s very pleasant there.”
“Oh, thank you,” said the child gratefully. “I should like it very much indeed.”
“I’ll show you where it is,” said the girl. “It’s behind these trees.”
As Rosalie was walking to the greenhouse, she ventured for the first time to look into the girl’s face. The voice had seemed somehow familiar to her. But when she saw the face, the large brown eyes, the dark hair, and the rosy cheeks, she felt sure that she had met with an old friend.
“Oh, please,” she said, stopping suddenly short in the path—“please, aren’t you Britannia?”
“How do you know anything about Britannia?” the girl inquired hurriedly.
“I didn’t mean to say Britannia,” said Rosalie. “I know you don’t ever want to be called that again. But, please, you are Jessie, are you not?”
“Yes, dear,” said the girl, “my name is Jessie. But how do you know me?”
“Please,” said Rosalie, “don’t you remember me? And how we talked in the caravan that windy night, when my mummy was so ill?”
“Oh, Rosalie,” said Jessie, “is it you? Why, to think I never knew you! Why, I shouldn’t ever have been here if it hadn’t been for you and your mother! Oh, I am glad to see you again! Where are you going to, dear? Is your caravan at Pendleton Fair?”
“No, Jessie,” said Rosalie. “I don’t live in a caravan now. And I’ve walked here to give a letter from my mother to Mrs. Leslie.”
“Then your mother got better after all,” said Jessie. “I am so glad! She was so very ill that night.”
“Oh, no, no, no!” said Rosalie, with a flood of tears—“no, she didn’t get better. She wrote that letter a long time ago.”
“Poor little Rosalie!” said Jessie, putting her arms round her, and shedding tears also. “I am so very, very sorry!”
“Please, Jessie,” said Rosalie through her tears, “did you remember to give Mrs. Leslie my mummy’s message?”
“Yes, dear, that I did. Do you think I would forget anything she asked me? Why, I should never have been here if it hadn’t been for her.”
“Can you remember what you said to Mrs. Leslie, Jessie?”
“Yes, dear. It was the first time she came to our house after I came back. I told her all about what I had done, and where I had been. And then I told her how I had met with a woman who used to know her many years ago, but who hadn’t seen her for a long, long time, and that this woman had sent her a message. So she asked me who this woman was, and what the message was which she had sent her. I told her that the woman’s name was Norah, but I didn’t know her other name, and that Norah sent her respects and her love, and I was to say that she had not very long to live, but that the Good Shepherd had sought her and found her, and that she was not afraid to die. And then, Rosalie, she cried when I told her that, and went away. But she came again about half an hour after that, and asked me ever so many questions about your mother, and I told her all I could. I told her how ill she was, and how she liked the hymn, and all about you, and how good you were to your mother. And then I told her how beautifully your mother talked to me about the Good Shepherd, and how she begged me to ask the Good Shepherd to find me, and how I had done as she begged me, and I hoped that He was carrying me home on His shoulder. And I told her, dear, how kind you both were to me, and how you gave me that money, and made me promise to know which road the caravan was on, and which fair it was going to. She asked a many questions about that, and wanted to know if I could tell her what town would be the next you would stop at after the one you were going to when I met you; but I didn’t know. Now I must go in, dear, and get dinner ready. But I’ll tell my mistress as soon as she comes.”
So Rosalie sat down in the arbour to wait. But she could hardly sit still a minute, she felt so excited and restless.
Only now and again she lifted up her heart in prayer to the Good Shepherd, asking Him to make her aunt love her and help her.