Life in the Lodging House
True to her promise, Betsey Ann appeared in the attic the next morning at ten minutes to five. Poor girl, she had only had four hours’ sleep, and she rubbed her eyes vigorously to make herself wide awake, before she attempted to wake Rosalie. Then she put down her candle on the box and looked at the sleeping child. She was lying with one arm under her cheek, and the other round the kitten. It seemed a shame to wake her. But the precious ten minutes were going fast, and it was Betsey Ann’s only chance of hearing more of what had so roused her curiosity the night before. It was her only opportunity of hearing of someone who loved her.
And to be loved was quite a new idea to the workhouse child. She had been fed, and clothed, and provided for, to a certain extent; but none in the whole world had ever done anything for Betsey Ann because they loved her. That was an experience which had never been hers. And yet there had been a strange fascination to her in those words Rosalie had spoken the night before: “He loves you so much”—she must hear some more about it. So she gave Rosalie’s hand, the hand which was holding the kitten, a very gentle tap.
“I say,” she said—“I say, the ten minutes are going!”
The sleepy child turned over, and said dreamily, “I’ll come in a minute, Father; have you begun?”
“No; it’s me,” said the girl. “It’s me; it’s Betsey Ann. Don’t you know you said you would read to me? Bless me! I wish I hadn’t waked you, you look so tired!”
“Oh, yes, I remember,” said Rosalie, jumping up. I’m quite awake now. How many minutes are there?”
“Oh, seven or eight at most,” said Betsey Ann, with a nod.
“Then we mustn’t lose a minute,” said the child, pulling her Testament from under her pillow.
“La! I wish I was a good scholar like you,” said Betsey Ann, as Rosalie quickly turned over the leaves, and found the verse she had fixed on the night before for her first lesson to the poor ignorant kitchen-maid.
“ ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.’ (2 Corinthians 8:9)”
“Isn’t that a beautiful verse?” said little Rosalie. “I used to read it to my mummy, and she liked it so much.”
“Tell me about it,” said Betsey Ann. “Put it plain like for me.”
“ ‘Ye know,’ ” said Rosalie—“that’s how it begins. You don’t know, Betsey Ann, but you will do soon, won’t you?”
“La! yes,” said the girl. “I hope I shall.”
“ ‘Ye know the grace.’ I’m not quite sure what grace means. I was thinking about it the other day. And now my mummy’s dead, I’ve no one to ask about things. But I think it must mean love; it seems as if it ought to mean love in this verse. And He does love us, you know, Betsey Ann, so we can’t be far wrong if we say it means love.”
“ ‘Ye know the love of our Lord Jesus Christ’—that’s the One we talked about last night, the One who loves you, Betsey Ann. ‘That though He was rich’—that means He lived in heaven, my mummy said, and had ever so many angels to wait on Him, and everything He wanted, all bright and shining. ‘Yet for your sakes’—that means your sake, Betsey Ann, just as much as if it had said, ‘You know the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for Betsey Ann’s sake He became poor.’ ”
“Well, I never!” said Betsey Ann.
“Poor,” repeated the child; “so poor, my mummy said, that He hadn’t a house, and had to tramp about from one place to another, and had to work in a carpenter’s shop, and used to be hungry just like we are.”
“Well, I never!” said Betsey Ann. “Whatever did He do that for?”
“That’s the end of the verse,“said Rosalie. “ ‘That ye through His poverty might be rich.’ That is, He came to be poor and die, that you might be rich and go to live up where He came from—up in the City of Gold, and have the angels wait on you, and live with Him always up there.”
Betsey Ann opened her eyes wider and wider in astonishment. “Well, now, I never heard the like! Why didn’t nobody never tell me nothin’ about it afore?”
“I don’t know,” said Rosalie. “Is the time up?”
“Very near,” said Betsey Ann, with a sigh. “There’s lots to do afore missus is up. There’s all the rooms to sweep out, and all the fires to light, and all the breakfasts to set, and all the boots to clean.”
“Can you wait one minute more?” asked the child.
“Yes,” said Betsey Ann. “Bless you! I can wait two or three. I’ll take off my shoes and run quick downstairs; that will save some time.”
“I wanted you just to speak to the Lord Jesus Christ before you go,” said Rosalie.
“Me speak to Him! Why, bless you! I don’t know how.”
“Shall we kneel down?” said the child. “He’s in the room, Betsey Ann, though you can’t see Him, and He’ll hear every word we say.
“O Lord Jesus, please, we come to you this morning. Thank you very much for leaving the Gold City for us. Thank you for coming to be poor, and for loving us, and for dying for us. Please make Betsey Ann love you. Please save Betsey Ann’s soul. Please forgive Betsey Ann’s sins. Amen.”
“I shall think about it all day; I declare I shall!” said Betsey Ann, as she took off her slipshod shoes and prepared to run downstairs. “My word! I wonder nobody never told me afore.”
When Rosalie went downstairs that morning, she found her father and the lady of the house in earnest conversation over the fireplace in the best parlor. They stopped talking when the child came into the room, and her father welcomed her with a theatrical bow.
“Good morning, madam,” he said. “Glad to find that you have benefited by your nocturnal slumbers.”
Rosalie walked up to the fire with the kitten in her arms, and the lady of the house gave her a condescending kiss, and then took no further notice of her.
It was a strange life for little Rosalie in the dirty lodging house, with no mother to care for or to nurse, and with no one to speak kindly to her all day long but poor Betsey Ann.
Clatter, clatter, clatter, went those slipshod shoes, upstairs and downstairs, backwards and forwards, hither and thither. Sweeping, and dusting, and cleaning, and washing up dishes from morning till night, went poor Betsey Ann. And whenever she stopped a minute, her mistress’s voice was heard screaming from the dingy parlor, “Betsey Ann, you lazy girl! what are you after now?”
That afternoon, as Rosalie was sitting reading in her little attic, she heard the slipshod shoes coming upstairs, and presently Betsey Ann entered the room.
“I say,” she said, “there’s a young boy wants to speak to you below. Can you come?”
Rosalie hastened downstairs, and found Toby standing in the passage, his hat in his hand.
“Miss Rosie, I beg pardon,” he said, “but I’ve come to say goodbye.”
“Oh, Toby! are you going away?”
“Yes,” said Toby. “Master doesn’t want us any more this winter. He’s got no work for us, so he has sent us off. I’m right sorry to go, I’m sure I am.”
“Where are you going, Toby?”
“I can’t tell, Miss Rosie,” said he, with a shrug of his shoulders. “Where I can get, I suppose.”
“Oh, dear! I am sorry you must go!” said the child.
“I shall forget all my learning,” said Toby mournfully. “But I tell you what, Miss Rosie, I shall be back here in the spring. Master will take me on again, if I turn up in good time, and then you’ll teach me a bit more, won’t you?”
“Yes,” said Rosalie, “to be sure I will. But, Toby, you won’t forget everything, will you?”
“No, Miss Rosie,” said Toby, “that I won’t! It’s always coming in my mind. I can’t curse and swear now as I used to do; somehow the bad words seem as if they would choke me. The last time I swore (it’s a many weeks ago now, Miss Rosie), I was in a great passion with one of our men, and out came those awful words, quite quick, before I thought of them. But the next minute, Miss Rosie, it all came back to me—all about the Good Shepherd, and how He was looking for me and loving me, and I at that very time doing just what vexes Him. Well, I ran out of the caravan, and I tried to forget it. But somehow it seemed as if the Good Shepherd was looking at me quite sorrowful like. I couldn’t be happy, Miss Rosie, not until I’d asked Him to forgive me, and to help me never to do so no more.”
“I’m so glad, Toby!” said little Rosalie. “If you love the Good Shepherd, and don’t like to grieve Him, I think He must have found you, Toby.”
“Well, I don’t know, Miss Rosie. I hope so, I’m sure. But now I must be off; only I couldn’t go without saying goodbye. You’ve been so good to me, Miss Rosie, and taught me all I know.”
After this, Rosalie’s life went on much the same from day to day. Every morning she was waked by Betsey Ann’s touch upon her hand, and she read and explained a fresh verse from the Testament to the poor little maid. Rosalie used to choose the verses the night before, and put a mark in the place, so that she might begin to read the moment she awoke, and thus not one of the ten minutes might be wasted.
Betsey Ann always listened with open mouth and eyes. And she did not listen in vain. A little ray of light seemed, after a time, to be breaking in upon that poor, dark, neglected mind—a little ray of sunshine, which lighted up her dark, dismal life, and made even poor Betsey Ann have something worth living for. “He loves me”; that was the one idea which was firmly fixed in her mind. “He loves me so much that He died for me.” And that thought was enough to make even the dismal lodging house and the hard life seem less dark and dreary than they had done before.
And then a change came over the girl, which Rosalie could not help noticing. She was gentler than she used to be, more quiet and patient. And she was happier, too. She did not wish to die now, but was trying to follow the Good Shepherd, who had done so much for her.
These morning talks with Betsey Ann were the happiest parts of Rosalie’s days. She did not like the company she met in the large lodging house. They were very noisy, and the child kept out of their way as much as possible. Many of them were actors and actresses, and were in bed till nearly lunchtime. So the morning was the quietest time in the lodging house—even the lady of the house herself was often not up. Then Rosalie would sit with the kitten on her knee before the fire in the dingy parlor, thinking of her mother and of her Aunt Lucy, and putting her hand every now and then inside her dress, that she might be quite sure that her precious locket and letter were safe.
The poor little kit had a happy life now. Rosalie always saved something from her own meals for the motherless little creature. Many a nice saucerful of bread and milk, many a dainty little dinner of gravy and pieces of meat did the kitten enjoy. And every night when Rosalie went to bed it was wrapped up in a warm shawl, and went to sleep in the child’s arms. And so it came to pass that wherever Rosalie was to be found, the kitten was to be found also. It followed her upstairs and downstairs, it crept to her feet when she sat at meals, it jumped upon her knee when she sat by the fire, it was her constant companion everywhere.
There was only one time when the kitten and Rosalie were separated, and that was when she went to perform in the theater. Then it would scamper downstairs after her, as she went to the cab in her little white frock. It would watch her drive away, and wander restlessly about the house, crying until she returned.
No words can describe how much Rosalie disliked going to the theater now. It was a low, dirty place, and filled every evening with very bad-looking people. Rosalie went there night after night with her father, and the lady of the house, who was an actress in the same theater, went with them. She was not unkind to Rosalie, but simply took no notice of her. But to Rosalie’s father she was very polite. She always gave him the best seat in the dingy parlor, and the chief place at table, and made sure he was comfortable in every possible way. Often when Rosalie came suddenly into the room, she found her father and the lady of the house in earnest conversation, which was always stopped the moment that the child entered. And as they drove together in the cab to the theater, many whispered words passed between them, of which Rosalie heard enough to make her feel quite sure that her father and the lady of the house were on the best of terms.
And so the weeks and months passed by, and the time drew near when the days would be long and light again, and her father’s engagement at the theater would end, and he would set out on his summer rounds to all the fairs in the country. Rosalie was eagerly looking forward to this time. She was longing to get out of this dark lodging house; to have her own caravan to herself, where she might read and pray undisturbed; to breathe once more the pure country air; to see the flowers, and the birds, and the trees again; and to see poor old Toby, and to continue his reading-lessons. To all this Rosalie looked fopward with pleasure.
But Betsey Ann grew very mournful as the time drew near.
“La!” she would say, again and again. “Whatever shall I do without you? Whoever shall I find to read to me then?”
And the slipshod shoes dragged more heavily at the thought, and the eyes of poor Betsey Ann filled with tears.
Yet she knew now that, even when Rosalie went away, the Good Shepherd loved her, and would be with her still.